A birthday party held on the Southern plantation owned by Big Daddy — played by David Mycoff — yields much drama. Maggie (Shari Azar) is feeling tortured by her husband Brick’s inability to be intimate. She is ready for a baby, but Brick (Robert Dale Walker) — battling depression over his best friend Skipper’s death — is drowning himself in liquor to attain peace. Things reach a boiling point when the suspicion of Brick’s and Skipper’s true relationship, and the report of Big Daddy’s failing health, are revealed.
This is the setting for Tennessee Williams’ classic play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, onstage at Hendersonville Community Theatre through Sunday, Oct. 7.
At the time the play was written, Williams pushed the boundaries of theater with controversial homosexual subject matter. Still, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955. The discomfort still works if we’re engrossed in the setting and time period. In the Hendersonville production, when the word “queer” is uttered, a shudder races through the audience, proving the play’s relevance. However, throughout the three acts, the tension present at the top of the show gradually disintegrates.
Overall, the actors bring their best to the stage. Azar and Walker have a very clear passion for this play and they work well together. A disconnect infiltrates their woeful characters.
Azar particularly surprises, evoking a catlike sensuality. She owns the stage, the way her character was meant to. Most importantly, rather than making Maggie a one-dimensional sex symbol, we feel her longing for a future that’s being threatened. Azar has never been better.
Walker’s wonderfully subtle performance makes his character all the more haunting. As Brick gives into alcoholism, we visualize him spiraling into a deep pit. We feel sympathy for him, wondering when the moment will come that he finally reaches the bottom. Walker’s physical action with a crutch is very well done.
Watching Brick’s inevitable decline is the conniving, busybody Mae Pollitt, played to the comedic hilt by Molly Carlin-Folk. The pregnant Mae is meant to signify what Maggie lacks: a child. Carlin-Folk makes the most of her stage time, and we can’t take our eyes off of her.
This show is Nancy Colangione’s finest hour. She plays the role of Big Mama with such reality. For the majority of the play, Big Mama fools herself into thinking Big Daddy’s health is fine. We watch helplessly as Colangione, crippled with heartache, finally has to admit the truth.
This production reaches a pinnacle with Mycoff’s utterly brilliant performance as Big Daddy. Towering over the play in a white suit, there’s never a falsehood. His impactful interpretation is passionate, yet searing. Most memorable is an unexpectedly endearing conversation with his son, Brick. Mycoff truly gives one of the best local performances of the year.
Ultimately, it’s Mycoff who manages to bind together the vision of the play. The direction, by Jim Walker, is caught somewhere between illusion and reality. While an intriguing concept, the imbalance doesn’t always work. Also, the set dressing appears as if we’re visiting a Hawaiian condo rather than a vast Mississippi Delta plantation. Despite this odd choice, the set design by John Arnett is lovely.
Those yearning for a thorough version of this classic will find it here. The cast rises to the emotional challenge and reminds us how wild and untamed Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof can be.
WHAT: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
WHERE: Hendersonville Community Theatre, 229 S. Washington St., Hendersonville, hendersonvilletheatre.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, Oct. 7. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. $12-22