"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," by Tennessee Williams, directed by Mick Tinder for the Reston Players, Reston Community Center Theatre, Hunters Woods Plaza, June 19, 20, 26 and 27 at 8:30 p.m. Admission is $4.50 adults $3 for seniors and children under 12.
"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," first produced on Broadway during the 1954-55 season, brought playwright Tennessee Williams his second Pultizer Prize.
Since that first production, it has had many lives, including the famous film version with Burl Ives as an imposing Big Daddy, a young Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie, the cat, and Paul Newman as her alcoholic and tormented husband Brick.
In recent years, "Cat" has become a staple of community theater groups courageous enough to attempt Williams' complicated, and often destructive, look at southern family life.
The Reston Community Players, which is putting on the play this weekend and next, is the latest community group to try its hand at Williams.
For those unfamiliar with the story, a short review:
The play opens in a room of a grand southern plantation, set on "28,000 acres of the richest land this side of the Nile," shortly after World War II. The house belongs to Big Daddy, a tyrant who has slammed his way to riches.
The family has just been told that Big Daddy is dying of cancer, a fact everyone keeps from him, while they quickly scheme to inherit Big Daddy's money. The vultures around his death bed include his wife Big Mamma, a dominated southern woman finally allowed to open her mouth and ready to scream; Gooper, the first-born son, whose fertile wife Mae and five children urge him to claim what's coming to him, and Brick, the beloved, childless and alcoholic younger son whose wife Maggie is the "cat on a hot tin roof" clawing for Big Daddy's riches and a return to her husband's bed.
So here's Big Daddy, who believes the family lie and thinks he has a new lease on life -- a lease he plans to use to chase women and lecture the only person he has ever cared for, Brick.
Brick, meanwhile is consumed by the suicide of his best friend, Skipper, and sinks rapidly toward a death-like, alcholic stupor.
By the end of the play, the positions have switched, with Big Daddy realizing he is dying, and Brick made alive again by two acts of badgering from his father.
Big Daddy manages to uncover the truth about the suicide of Skipper, whose death Brick believes was brought on by Maggie taunting Skipper about his homosexual affection for Brick. Big Daddy, shrewd and cruel, finally confronts Brick with the truth Brink has been avoiding: Brick brought on Skipper's death by refusing to face up to his friend's homosexuality.
Brick, in retaliation, informs his father of the truth -- that Big Daddy is dying of cancer.
There is of course, the final scrapping for Big Daddy's wealth, as Maggie sends word to Big Daddy that she is pregnant, hoping that a child will force Big Daddy to pass over Gooper and Mae for herself and Brick.
And then, in an effort to make that falsehood a truth, she coaxes Brick back to her bed.
As originally, and most often, produced, the play revolved around Maggie the cat and her efforts to claw her way back into Brick's life. But the Reston Players have chosen to switch the emphasis to the relationship between Brick and Big Daddy -- where the Players' acting strength lies.
Maggie Bowers, as Maggie the cat, memorized all her lines very well and has the appropriate figure for the job, but her delivery served to remind the audience that they were watching a strickly local effort. It was mechanical, and very often without the emotion one associates with the character. Perhaps a few more seasons will give Bowers the polish she needs. c
The tension created between Brick (Gary Battaglia) and Big Daddy (Phil Baedecker) is worth building on, however, and director Mick Tinder did a fine job of pulling out every visceral ability they have.
The supporting cast keeps the tension going, with high marks for the fertile Mae (Paula Crum) and the much-rejected Big Mama (Moirie McDonald).
The Reston Players evidently have an element distinctly uncommon to such groups -- money. The production is housed in the splendid community center, which boasts a fancy stage, fanciful lighting and real seats. And the set for this play shows the kind of creativity and imagination that can spring up when you have a real budget. Designer Pia Berndt used a few doorway arches to set scene boundaries, and expensive brass bed for Maggie's scratchings, and a giant screen full of special effects to indicate outdoor activities.