So we went to see “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, a play I’ve read and seen the film of but have never seen staged. A review lies below the cut.
Generally I enjoyed it, though right from her first entrance I thought Maggie was over-acted. There is, I suppose, an argument for the part to be over-played; she is desperate, afraid, alone, and ready to do anything to bring her husband back to her. That said, I still thought she was over-acted, and I wondered if it was the actor or the director making that choice. Worse, after nearly two months of performances, she was losing her voice, so what might have once been sultry was hoarse, and it’s possible she threw herself into the unnecessary physicality to make up for a failing voice.
Brick, on the other hand, was very much as my father was reviewed in a play some, er, fifty years ago: “Murphy played the part quietly. So quietly, in fact, one occasionally looked at him and wondered what he was doing on the stage.” I actually thought of that review of Dad during the performance, so, yeah: Brick lacked the presence required for the part. He did better in the second act, where he has considerably more to do than occasionally respond to what is essentially Maggie’s act-long monologue. Unfortunately, he was up against a Big Daddy who gave one of the best stage performances I’ve ever seen.
There was no sense of performance from him, in fact. I had far more of a sense of watching a slice of life, a crumbling patriarch trying to the best of his limited ability to reach out to the self-destructive son he adored. He was utterly splendid, and worth seeing the play for.
Everyone else was fine. The priest nearly lost his accent a couple times, which, since he only has about eight lines, was rather too much. The no-necked monsters were amusingly well-cast. Big Mama played the part well enough to garner my sympathy.
But man, there were some weird lighting, blocking and costume choices.
Most particularly for costuming, Maggie’s party dress matched the set’s wallpaper remarkably well. They were the same color, and while the patterns on them were different, the colors in the patterns were identical. I cannot imagine why they did that. I have two theories. One is that it was a statement about Maggie: that she is a wallflower because she’s failed to produce the child she (and Big Mama/Daddy) so desperately want. This, perhaps, plays into over-acting the part. The other theory is that the costume designer saw the set and subconsciously used the same colors and nobody picked up on it. I, however, noticed as Maggie was throwing dresses out of the closet to decide what to wear. She picked the third one up, held it against herself, and I thought, “Wow, that matches the wallpaper.” Then she put it on and I thought “What the hell?”
Then there was the issue of Brick’s blocking and the lighting used on him. Now, Brick spends most of the play trying to not be there, so he was looking offstage a lot, which is fair enough. He struck me as a mildly handsome man, which–well, Brick is supposed to be drop dead gorgeous, so mildly handsome didn’t really work for me, but I sort of thought maybe they couldn’t find somebody as good-looking as Brick should be. There were a few scenes where he’s outside the main stage area, drinking, where he was face on to the audience, but because he was outside at night, the lighting was dim.
So it wasn’t until the curtain call that I got a good look at his face. And it turned out that the guy playing him really *was* *very* attractive. *Very* attractive.
The curtain call is not the time for the audience to discover that. So there was some kind of significant failure on the part of the director, particularly, in both blocking the play and in directing the lighting director.
The last bizarre bit, which has very little to do with the actual play, was that the woman playing Maggie kept her face lifted when they bowed for the curtain call. It not only looked uncomfortable, it struck me as an astonishingly glory-hound kind of thing to do. Afterward, Ted said to me, “Why’d she keep her head up?” I can’t remember ever seeing anybody do that before, so I said what I’d thought: that she was a glory hound. Really, really weird. She wouldn’ta done that in my production, I tell you. :)(x-posted from the essential kit)