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CSC’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is “Must-See Tennessee”

Review by Liz Eichler of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Cincy Shakespeare‘s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is must-see Tennessee Williams. The production, directed by Michael Evan Haney, delivers visually, with actors exploring the complicated characters with passion and gusto, and is a powerful use of CSC’s new space.

The playwright, of course, needs some credit.  Williams crafted this family drama that uncovers the convolutions of a Southern American family in the 1950’s. The play is about Maggie, trying to salvage her marriage to Brick, the son of Big Daddy, a plantation owner who is celebrating his 65th birthday. Thinking he just survived a cancer scare, Big Daddy is planning for a successor, hoping it to be Brick (who is currently drinking away the memories of his deceased best friend), ignoring his oldest son, lawyer Gooper and his wife Sister Woman and their 5, soon to be 6 children. He’s also ignoring his devoted wife, Big Mama, and the preacher, doctor, and house servants who have also gathered for the occasion. In the world of the 50’s and the family, Maggie knows a child is the only way to legitimize her and Brick’s place in the family, so she desperately tries to understand why he drinks and why he is pushing her away.  

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has such a deep bench that even smaller roles are played fully and with such skill, for example, Nick Rose, who just floored audiences with his Iago in “Othello,” shows the richness of his craft as the Doctor. But it’s Jim Hopkins as Big Daddy who governs the show.  It’s a role I’ve hoped to see him portray for years—and he’s big, blustery, and drives his agenda. Maggie Lou Rader as Maggie exudes sensuality. Grant Niezgodski as Brick athletically covers the stage, on one foot and a crutch. Directed for modern sensibilities, Brick explores a wide range of emotion, and Maggie’s demonstrates strength as well as nervous desperation as a cat trying to stay on a hot tin roof. It is a great ensemble of performers. Amy Warner provides a loving yet quirky Big Momma, Justin McCombs is the dutiful Gooper, Kelly Mengelkoch is the delightfully pregnant and interfering Mae, Paul Riopelle is the Reverend with his hand out, and Ernaisja Curry, Candice Handy, Luke Randazzo, Charlotte and Henry Weghorst round out this amazing production.

The play is told in “real time,” with the action portrayed lasting the span of an evening, all taking place in Brick and Maggie’s bedroom, a beautiful, historic pressure cooker.  The shouts of the party outside, the noneck monsters” running into the bedroom in the middle of heated conversations, and the thunderstorm are all visible because of the gorgeous louvered doors that open to the wisteriacovered veranda. Shannon Moore (Set Designer), Abbi Howson (Costume Designer) and Justen N. Locke (Lighting Designer) have really nailed it this time, showing off the new theatre to the hilt. Special kudos to authentic costume details, from garter belts to Big Momma’s corsage and wig.

The play is told in 3 acts, with Maggie dominating the stage and unfolding the story in the first act. Each piece of this story is deep and layered, exploring how this (and every?) family lies to each other, can be greedy, and filled with members who do not understand each other—or themselves.  See “Cat on A Hot Tin Roof” and continue the conversation—what do you think happens next?

“Cat on A Hot Tin Roof” plays through April 28. For tickets go to cincyshakes.org.