Hot Tin Roof a dysfunctional classic

By Bryanne Miller

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is like a simmering soup that increases its flavour with time. A combination of adultery, deceit, confrontation and dysfunction makes for a fine medley of entertainment. Presented by Theatre Calgary, the Tennessee Williams classic is currently stewing at the Max Bell Theatre.

Set in the mid ’50s on a small Mississippi plantation, the play never leaves the bedroom of Maggie (Kate Newby) and Brick Pollitt (Ryan Luhning). Despite this, the audience can feel the heat and slow-goings of their southern lifestyle and the consistent setting adds to the focus on the issues at hand.

Starring as the infamous Maggie the Cat, Newby portrays a vivacious, melodramatic housewife who is pained by the rejection of her alcoholic husband Brick. Newby seduces the audience, if not her husband, with her sexy southern drawl and sensuous expression of a hurt and dejected woman foolishly attempting to regain the affections of Brick. Unfortunately, her husband would sooner down a glass of bourbon than lay a hand on her. Newby presents Maggie in such a three-dimensional light that the failures of her struggle evoke sympathy from the audience. She brings understanding to why Maggie the Cat won’t jump off the hot tin roof.

The play soon becomes a series of interlinking cyclical events that intertwine and directly influence one another, all started by Brick’s drinking problem. A night of confrontation begins: Brick’s father has cancer, someone commits suicide and Maggie’s affair is revealed.

In spite of the multitude of distracting issues in the play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof still manages to portray the traditional dynamics between a husband and wife in the ’50s. As well, the play serves as a nice parallel between generations of family dysfunction.

Although Brick’s father Big Daddy (Les Carlson) and his wife Big Mama (Maralyn Ryan) may sound like two characters out of The Nutty Professor, they are heavy only as strong characters. Indeed, they add a much needed element of comic relief, but are also crucial in demonstrating the extent of the mendacity throughout the family.

Williams intended untruthfulness to be a large theme behind the interaction of these characters and made it apparent the characters knew so as well. The dysfunction in this family is no secret.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof the actors do well in elevating the tension by sticking to character, convincing the audience these are real issues presented by "real" people. The ability of the cast to make a transition from a highly dramatic moment into a light-hearted comedic interval and then recapture the previous intensity is a consistent strength throughout the three acts. Such theatrical tactics add solidity and flow to the overall play, making Cat on a Hot Tin Roof a slow-burn success.

Leave a comment