Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins
The curtain went up (metaphorically of course as no curtain was used and if a curtain was used it would have gone from side to side) on Clio Cast and Crew’s presentation of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof this week in lovely snow shrouded Clio.
With only a brief understanding of the show (I read it in college and perused the IMDB synopsis) I sat back Saturday evening to enjoy the production like a normal theatregoer. I was more than pleasantly surprised.
To give any summary of the play is to give away some big reveals. So I won’t. Suffice it to say that Big Daddy and Big Momma’s family all get together on the 28,000-acre family spread, in Tennessee, to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday. Stock strained relationships, family feuds, and a medical crisis loom. Clio Cast and Crew then brought these timeless characters to life.
Mendacity: The telling of lies, deliberate, untruthfulness (Encarta Dictionary US)
This is the heart of the show. And the character’s relationships with each other drive the story.
The set was Spartan though well thought out and well used. The lines were clean and every bit of space and the furnishings were utilized, especially the full bar in the bedroom (what?).
The play centers on the relationship between Maggie (Juliet Stephens) and her recently injured husband Brick (Cameron Thorp), two beautiful people who spend most of the first act in their underclothes. Stephens was fantastic and spot on as the frustrated unfulfilled Maggie who verbally tussles with her restless secretive husband. Thorp was equal to the challenge. World weary and sad, he played the character well. Though after drinking about three liters of booze, maybe he should have showed more effects of the alcohol.
With the pace set, milquetoast brother, Gooper (Conner Klee) and his fertile wife Mae (Jane McMillan) offer a wonderful contrast as they shepherd their annoying flock around Big Daddy and the celebration.
Big Mama (Maggie Harmon) was wonderful as the peacemaker, always in denial of the family’s secrets as was her mate Big Daddy (Ron Fournier) with his booming voice coming to grips with his own problems and decisions about the family trust. These two actors were delightful in these roles. I was thoroughly impressed.
When Big Daddy upbraids Big Mama at the end of Act 1 – Harmon’s reactions and quivering lip were a true theatrical delight.
The showdown between Big Daddy and Brick was also riveting as both pushed, pulled and struggled with the truth. Thrilling.
Margaret (the Cat) and Brick keep the tempo moving as they interact throughout the show. Again these actors were impressive.
Finally, our flaccid couple Mae and Gooper who seemed at times to disappear (excellent costuming and understated tone) comes to life near the end as they fight for their piece of the family treasure. It’s easy to fluff off roles like this, as they are not the main focus, but good actors will find a way to make their time on stage meaningful. Well done.
The show also featured Dave Turner (Reverend Tooker), Carl Frost (Dr. Baugh), Madison Fagerstrom (Dixie) and Jacob Fagerstrom (Sonny).
A perfect show? Well, nearly. There were some line flubs, but the recovery and forward movement (essential in live drama) were handled like pros by this troupe.
As in many cases if you’ve only seen the film version of Cat, you are missing some big themes and in this case a fine production. Following the development of the show on Face Book I know that there were some cast changes and, by some reports, two or three (four?) different directors. What could have been a colossal mess was rescued by one Theodore Valley who stepped in and finished directing this American Classic. Valley brought his years of experience and talent to a troubled show, settled the cast, fixed production problems, rehearsed the troupe through some incredibly awful Mid-Michigan weather, and presented us with a beauty. Well done, Mr. Valley.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof continues February 14, 15 at 7:30 and February 9, 16 at 2:00p.m. at Theatre 57, 2220 W. Vienna Rd., Clio. Clio Cast and Crew should be commended for tackling some tough material. Clio may be becoming a theatre destination!