Nancy Sasso Janis
OnStage Connecticut Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle
“I’m not living with you. We occupy the same cage.” - Maggie
Brookfield, CT - Tennessee Williams’ ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ opens the 60th anniversary season at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts. Lou Okell mentioned during her curtain speech that all of the five productions that make up the season were chosen because some aspect of each one honored the theatre’s past, present and future; in her note in the program, the president of TBTA pointed out that two of their 2016 shows were listed among the top ten in the region by OnStage blog (namely, ‘bare: A Pop Opera,’ which I saw, and ‘Speed the Plow,’ which I did not.)
‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ is a well-known play, an American classic, that I had never seen nor read. I expected it to be comparable to eating a healthy meal, as in something that is good for you but that you don’t necessarily enjoy. This production under the direction of Jeanine A. DeFalco PhD was extremely polished and featured a talented cast of actors with whom I was not familiar. A period-perfect set designed by Alexander Kulcsar brought us to a bedroom in the deep South and the costumes designed by Molly Farrell-Savage indicated the class of the plantation’s inhabitants.
This Southern family is definitely in crisis, especially the husband Brick and wife Margaret, and we watch their interaction with Brick’s family during a gathering at the family estate in Mississippi for the patriarch’s birthday, who may or may not be dying. There are lies and hidden truths and plenty of yelling. Maggie’s painful loneliness has made her the cat in the title, hard, anxious and bitter and her husband is maddeningly removed from it all.
Anna Fagan was outstanding in the role of Margaret Pollitt, referred to as “Maggie the cat;” in fact, the entire title is repeated at least four times in this bedroom. From her Southern drawl to her lithe movements in her silky outfits, Ms. Fagan’s debut at TBTA was a memorable one. James Wilding played her alcoholic husband Brick and literally drank his way through his fine performance executed on one foot and a crutch.
Will Jeffries, a retired professional actor, is strong in all his roles and Big Daddy was no exception. His character is mean and hateful and somehow we couldn’t stop watching. Monica O’Brien played his wife Ida, called Big Mama; I remembered her as Ouiser in ‘Steel Magnolias’ at TBTA. Ms. O’Brien is currently directing ‘Oklahoma’ for (A.M.D.G)2, a homeschooling theatre troupe in Waterbury.
Christopher Cooney made his TBTA debut to play Brick’s brother Gooper and Anya Caravella played his wife Mae, believably pregnant with their sixth child. Francis A. Daley played the family doctor and Jeffrey Rossman (‘Amadeus’ at Downtown Cabaret Theater) was the preacher that makes house calls. Kate Valiska (‘bare’ and ‘Company at TBTA) and Morgana Kate Watson played almost identical servants.
Lighting designed by NVCC technical director Jonathan Curns was effective throughout and since we never got to leave the bedroom, thankfully made the details in the set come alive. I liked this American classic more than I expected, mostly because of the strong performances by the leading actors and the look and feel of the Southern setting that almost warmed up what was otherwise a very cold Sunday afternoon.
Performances continue weekends through March 18, with curtain Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm.
Photos by Stephen Cihanek