Tennessee Williams’ classic ‘Cat’ roars at San Jose Stage

The air hangs heavy on a hot night on the Mississippi Delta in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” the Tennessee Williams classic now playing at San Jose Stage Company. No matter how airy the spacious plantation bedroom may look in Giulio Cesare Perrone’s elegantly spare set with clear glass pillars, the atmosphere is thick with tension as well.

The 1955 drama won Williams his second Pulitzer Prize, after one for “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 1948. Unlike “Streetcar,” however, the tension in “Cat” is less about what might happen next than about trying to get at the heart of what’s really going on.

Former football player Brick has made a full-time occupation of drinking after the death of his closest friend, refusing to sleep with his wife, Maggie, with borderline hostile apathy. Meanwhile his father, plantation owner Big Daddy, is dying of cancer while even his doctor is lying to him about it.

Allison F. Rich, a company regular recently named associate artistic director, is magnetic as Maggie the Cat, charismatic and calculating and sympathetic in her long-suffering longing for Brick. It’s fascinating to watch the push and pull between Rich’s coaxing Maggie and Rob August’s terse and brooding Brick, who regards her with an undercurrent of contempt as she talks at him at length about their lack of sex life and his brother-in-law’s attempts to edge them out of Big Daddy’s will.

Artistic director Randall King, playing August’s father for a third time after the recent “Fool for Love” (also with Rich) and “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” is a grouchy and crude Big Daddy, accustomed to throwing his weight around. What really comes through, however, is his love of Brick, despite their clumsy attempts to connect.

Will Springhorn Jr. is amusingly straitlaced and awkward as Gooper, who’s used to younger brother Brick getting all the family affection and approval and now does everything he can to not-so-subtly undercut his brother — a task that Brick’s behavior makes far too easy. Gooper’s wife Mae, played with comical near-desperation to please by Tanya Marie, has less subtlety still as she stalks around eavesdropping, tattling and making passive aggressive barbs when she’s not parading her many children in hopes of entertaining and appeasing Big Daddy.

These five little “no-neck monsters,” as Maggie calls the children, are frequently heard singing and laughing offstage but never actually seen in director Lee Sankowich’s production. They occupy the world of Steve Schoenbeck’s sound design, alongside all the hawk cries and sounds of fireworks outside.

Judith Miller is as powerful in distress as she is loudly over-enthusiastic in celebration as Big Mama, with a big personality that makes the rest of her family look restrained — which they decidedly are not.

Also hanging around are the timid doctor (restrained Tim Fullerton), an opportunistic reverend (mild-mannered Michael Bellino) and the only people of color in the play, two mostly silent domestic workers (amiable Leslie Ivy and Keinan Woodson).

The cast navigates Williams’ dense dialogue well, making all its poetic repetition and florid flourishes feel natural without …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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