Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Neighborhood Playhouse

It’s time to revisit that infamous dysfunctional Pollitt family once again, in what is a rare treat for South Bay theatre goers.

If you’re not familiar with the family name, then perhaps you’ll remember them best by their first names: Brick, Maggie (aka the Cat), Gooper, Mae, and of course, Big Daddy and Big Mama.

That’s right, Tennessee Williams’ 1955 Pulitzer Prize Winner, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is getting a Los Angeles Revival by way of the Neighborhood Playhouse.

To be sure, Williams tends to take melodrama to a higher art by infusing high doses of reality to his characters-a fine line that requires a deep understanding of the different layers that textures each of the characters in the play.

For that reason, it is quite easy for a director to skim the surface and produce a flat production of this then-scandalous play about sexuality, repression, and the lies that surround this wealthy southern family.

In this Neighborhood Playhouse production, director Brady Schwind has assembled an attractive, if miscast, group of actors to fill some very big shoes. That’s not to say that the production is not a worthy effort.

Andrew Vonderschmitt (Scenic Design) and Christopher Singleton (Lighting Design) create the perfect stage for these characters to play out their drama. The set consists of a plantation-style sitting room and bed that evokes the decaying southern wealth complete with exposed walls. The lighting in the room hot while the storm brewing outside is cool and explosive.

Williams used the three-act structure to its fullest in this play to bring out the titular character’s feistiness. Maggie (Kathleen Early) sets up the premise of the play in what is almost a non-stop monologue that extends through the whole of Act One, with Brick (Aaron Blake) giving only blank reactions and offering very little else other than hobbling over to the liquor cabinet.

Early has the enormous task of not only setting up, but also revealing Maggie’s motives, desires, and frustrations. Unfortunately, what should be revealing in subtext only comes off flatly and one dimensional in her hands. Blake does little to help.

While Brick’s indifference to Maggie should tell a lot about their relationship, Blake only looks bored.

The production hints at what it can really be once Big Daddy (Michael Prohaska) makes his boisterous entrance and dominates all of Act Two. More grounded on the nuances of the character, Prohaska is able to create a more fully fleshed out Big Daddy and the rest of the cast falls into place.

Nadya Starr as Big Mama flits about despite her husband’s admonition of hatred for her. Gooper (Mark A. Cross) and Mae (Jennifer L. Davis) and their band of “no-necked monsters” provide the comedic relief needed for such a heavy handed drama unfolding on Big Daddy’s birthday celebration.

For the most part, Maggie remains in the background through this Act but returns with full gale force in the Third Act, but as stated earlier, Early hasn’t fully commanded the stage as Maggie the Cat. Once all pretenses in this family have been stripped away, we’re left with a hollow family portrait.

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