The performing area is dominated by a tousled bed. What happens and more importantly doesn’t happen there will be the focus of the next three hours of ACT’s stirring revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The sixty-year old classic features the turmoil of Brick and Maggie’s unhappy marriage, wonderfully brought to life by Broadway stars Brandon O’Neill and Laura Griffith. While Brick’s struggle with his homosexuality may seem dated and merely quaint today, the couples’ fight to find a survivable path through their lives is as captivating as it must have been when ACT featured the play in its inaugural year.
Each of the play’s three acts has a separate emphasis. Act one belongs to Maggie, the cat on a hot tin roof who is willing to put up with the heat of battle to hold on to her man. Is her motivation her love for Brick or a greedy desire to share in his possible inheritance from his successful Mississippi Delta family? This unsettling puzzle lies at the core of Maggie’s character. Providing a child would be an important step toward her goals. When Brick asks her “How can you have a child with a man who can’t stand you?” she coolly replies, “That’s a problem I’ll have to work out.” The role is remarkably challenging and though some of Griffith’s work could be toned down for ACT’s smallish venue, she hits many, many stirring notes. Griffith’s Maggie has a fearless tenacity that drives the play toward its first curtain.
Act two belongs to Big Daddy (John Aylward). He is sixty-five years old, battling cancer and trying to fend off his sycophant older son Gooper (Charles Leggett) and his clan, who eagerly await the inheritance of the 28,000-acre estate. Big Daddy is determined to discover the truth behind his son Brick’s desperate drinking. Their confrontation is the centerpiece of the play, for it is here that Brick finally comes to life and begins to explore the source of his pain. Under Kurt Beattie’s direction, both Aylward and O’Neill are able to make this iconic clash vital and fresh. Aylward often paces the stage like some kind of trapped lion, raging against the dying of his light.
Act three is an ensemble piece, as Big Daddy’s family and friends wrap up a dismally failed birthday party for him. Storms rage both outside and in as the family comes to terms with dream shattering truths. Morgan Rowe and Marianne Owen have some fine moments as the wives of Gooper and Big Daddy. Williams’ women, however flawed and trodden, often have some of the best moments of his plays and they certainly do in this outstanding production.
Cat On a Hot Tin Roof plays through May 17 at the ACT, 700 Union Street, Seattle. For ticket information go to www.acttheatre.org or call 206-292-7676.