Academy Players first show of their season is Tennessee William's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". The show first opened on Broadway on March 24, 1955 starring Barbara Bel Geddes, Ben Gazzara and Burl Ives. In 1958 it was turned into the movie version starring Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and Burl Ives. It is a hot summer night in a plantation house on the Mississippi delta, the members of the Pollitt family plus their preacher and their doctor, are celebrating Big Daddy's sixty-fifth birthday. (all the family members have sentimental nicknames dubbed on them) The tone is happy at first but the mood is somber as the family awaits the test results for Big Daddy's cancer scare. For a number of old evils poison the gaiety, sins of the past, greedy hopes for the future, a desperate eagerness not to believe the truths that surround them. The show is a delicately wrought exercise in human communication. The first act is almost a whole monologue for Maggie with intermittent lines in the background. Except for her confrontation with Brick, those eternal adversaries, irresistible force and immovable object clash together with gusto. He is sullen and unresponsive until she mentions his best friend, Skipper, a fellow athlete who might have had a closer relationship with Brick. The irresistible force is embodied most persuasively by Christin L. Goff as Maggie the cat, a Southern seductress while the immovable object is Neil Santoro as Brick, Maggie's self-anesthetized husband, the former athlete with a deep dark secret that he is confronted with by Maggie at first and Big Daddy in the second act. Williams' poetic dialogue packs a powerful punch. His characters try to escape from the loneliness of their private lives into some form of understanding. The truth invariably terrifies them. That is one thing they can't face or speak. The other performers each get their moments to shine throughout this three act show. As the expression of a brooding point of view about life, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" is effortless but as theatre, it is superb. Veteran director, Cait Calvo casts topnotch performers to fill each and everyone of these roles including three talented children. Even though the show is billed as a drama, there are many funny moments thrown in to temper it. Williams wrote with "Cat" he was trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that cloudy, flickering, evanescent, fiercely charged interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis. What a powerful play it is that it retains every bit of it from over fifty years ago, making it a rounding success for today's audiences, too.
Cait is aided in her task by hard working stage manager, Jo Ann Maccarone who keeps things running smoothly onstage and backstage. Technical director, Cynthia Glinick and set designer, Laura Mernoff do wonderful work, too. Lighting design by Michael Hyde sets the mood for the show while the sound design is handled by Terrence Shea. The multitude of costumes are by Heather Tingle and her assistant, Jackie Granja with props by Barbara Green. Maggie is played with fire, passion and a seductive vulnerability by Christin Goff. She first appears in a soiled frock which has been ruined by grape juice being spilled on it by the no neck monsters (Mae and Gooper's three children) What Christin grasps in this role is Maggie's hard-driving sense of purpose, doing so with riveting firmness and clarity. Maggie has to make her husband long absent from her bed, have sex with her again. Some of the reasons include that she really loves him; a woman has her needs and if she doesn't conceive a child, it is possible that the huge estate of the terminally ill Big Daddy will go to his other son, Gooper, a lawyer who secretly has plans to take over the place and who has an annoyingly fertile and conniving wife, Mae. Spectacular performance is given by this wonderful actress. The brooding, heavy drinking Brick played by Neil Santoro, is every bit her equal in acting prowess. First appearing with a broken foot on a crutch as the character, he makes the part his own. The intensity between them builds in the first act and his confrontation scene with Big Daddy in the second act is startling and astounding. Finally by act three, the click in the alcoholic son's head comes about, leading Brick to comfort his mother when she needs him and leading the audience to believe he will give up his liquor to give Maggie the child they need to hold onto the family estate. John Mutter, a real life judge, tackles the role of Big Daddy. He does an earth shaking job in this role of this cantankerous, curmudgeon who fears for his mortality but yells and swears at Brick and everyone else in his way. The main theme is "mendacity is a system we all live in". Lying on the plantation has become a way of life but Big Daddy wants the lies to stop as he shouts at the end of the second act. "Liars, liars, liars" as he storms off stage. He confides in Brick that he stopped sleeping with Big Mama five years ago because he never liked her for the past forty years. John is full of fire and brimstone in this role, proving after fifty years in theatre that he still has the power to pull off this larger than life role. Barbara Blossom shines as Big Mama, a role she first played at Trinity Rep. Co. Big Mama is the long suffering wife of this wealthy man, who has been shoved into the background but with Miss Blossom at the helm of this role, she doesn't take a backseat to him. She shows the multifaceted sides of the character effortlessly. Big Mama doesn't want to hear that her husband might be terminal and Barbara gets the audience to choke up with her at this point in the show. Four strong leading players lead the rest of the cast in triumph.
Thomas Briody who I directed in "Lost in Yonkers" in 2002, plays the role of the unloved son, Gooper. He gives his mother and father the grandchildren that they desire but Brick has always been the apple of their eye, no matter how well he does with his law practice. He does a wonderful job in this seemingly underwritten role in a Williams play. The constantly pregnant Mae is played by the multitalented Kathleen Oliverio whom I have reviewed in "Wait Until Dark" and "Amy's View" ( having first seen her back in 1981 when she was a student at Providence College in another Williams show "Streetcar Named Desire", playing Blanche Dubois in it) Wearing a pregnancy pad, Kathy slinks around the stage spying on and eavesdropping on Brick and Maggie as well as on Brick and Big Daddy. She usually plays the nice girl but in this show she gets to pull Christin's hair and push her around. Kathy also gets to yell out that Maggie is a liar for saying she is pregnant to Big Daddy when she and Gooper can distinctly hear that she and Brick haven't made love in a very long time. Great job as this unkind creature. Their three children are well played by Tom's two real life children, Alex as Dixie and Christian as Sonny and the third child is Nicholas St. Laurant as Buster. ( I acted with his real life mother, Trish in "Natalie Needs a Nightie" and "Catch Me If You Can" at the Newport Playhouse.) Rounding out the cast is John Ricci as Reverand Tooker who leads the children in singing "Jesus Loves Me So" and Jeffrey Sullivan as Doctor Baugh who delivers the real results of Big Daddy's test at the end of the party. (It is Jeff's debut onstage as is Nicholas and Christian.) So for a powerhouse drama with fantastic acting, be sure to catch "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" at Academy Players before time runs out.