If you missed the Juneau run of Perseverance Theatre’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and you’re planning on being in Anchorage in April, I highly recommend you catch the production at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. This is a standout show, anchored by riveting performances on the part of the cast, particularly major players Enrique Bravo as Brick, Elizabeth M. Kelly as Maggie, and Herbert Siguenza as Big Daddy. The show, directed by Robert Barry Fleming, opens in Anchorage April 11 and runs through April 27.
Visiting actor Kelly had my full attention from her first sultry high-heeled step on stage. Kelly, who as Maggie must carry nearly all the lines in the first act, did a masterful job of rapidly moving between conflicting emotions -- raw anger immediately covered over with seductive charm -- and of giving Maggie her distinctive combination of vulnerability and strength. Her Maggie isn't as brittle as others I’ve seen, and her sincere affection for her husband, Brick, and her belief that she can still get through to him is one of the things holds the play together in the midst of so much miscommunication, dishonesty and antipathy.
The dynamic between Maggie and Brick is expertly handled by Kelly and Bravo. Bravo, who barely leaves the stage for the entire production, is asked to pull off drunkenness, apathy, rage -- all of which he does with great skill. Much of what goes on with Brick, especially in the first act, happens underneath the surface; Brick’s tension comes through in Bravo’s expressions and repetitive movements -- pacing about the stage with his crutch and refilling his drink almost constantly. In the second act, during his long conversation with Big Daddy when he is finally beginning to be forthcoming about how he feels, Bravo keeps despair from spilling over into melodrama, hitting the tone just right.
Siguenza’s Big Daddy, who in some ways occupies a parallel role to Maggie's in the second act in trying to establish real communication with Brick, is a commanding presence whenever he's on stage, alternately ferocious and tender. (I also got the chance to see Siguenza perform as Picasso in his one man play “A Weekend With Picasso” at Perseverance while he was in town and both performances were remarkable.) Like Kelly, Siguenza enjoys a natural ease with Bravo on stage, and watching the two men scrape against each other as father and son was thoroughly engaging and at times very moving.
As a woman, it’s impossible not to respond to the way Big Daddy and other male characters talk to their wives. Big Daddy's lines about stripping his lover naked, “strangling” her with diamonds and “smothering" her with minks (accompanied by violent hand gestures) is particularly disturbing, as are multiple characters' demands for their wives to shut up. I know other women who found it difficult to sit through some of these scenes (a criticism that reflects only on the playwright, as they are part of the 1955 script). For me, the overall effect of this kind of male aggressiveness was lessened by the presence of strong female actors on stage, particularly Kelly, but also Ricci Adan, as Big Mama, and Meredith Schmidt as Mae. The emotional limitations of Williams' male characters and inability to connect with their wives is clearly their loss, and in the end it's Maggie's strength that stayed with me, not Big Daddy's or Brick's misogyny.
The intensity of the interactions between characters is heightened by the fact that all the action takes place in one room, a sparsely furnished bedroom framed by Akiko Nishijima Rotch's gorgeous semi-transparent walls, and by Williams’ directive that the play be presented as one long continuous scene. The breaks between acts are a necessary pause for the audience (and no doubt the actors as well) in the midst of so much intensity.
Like most works of art, the play can be said to be "about" many things, rewarding exploration through many different angles. Though I may expose myself as a rube by saying this, after watching it I wasn’t thinking about any overarching socio-economic, cultural or historical themes, or even about what the story "meant." I was thinking about relationships, intimacy, human nature, and our limited ability to express ourselves through language. As Brick says in the second act, “Communication is -- awful hard between people.” For me this is part of what makes this story timeless and accessible. I was grateful to see it brought to life so beautifully.