It's a time of transformation for the Antaeus Theatre Company with their run of the inaugural production in their new performance space in Glendale, the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center. "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof" is certainly an ambitious theatrical venture for a new period in the company's history, but the production's artistic triumphs proves that Antaeus is determined to re-emerge into the L.A. theatre scene with great gusto.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play, often cited as Tennessee Williams' personal favorite of his vast collection of masterworks, follows the complex and poisonous marriage between the alcoholic Brick Pollitt (Daniel Bess and Ross Phillips) and his wife, Maggie "the Cat" (Linda Park and Rebecca Mozo), during a visit to Brick's childhood home on the massive plantation of his father, cotton tycoon "Big Daddy" Pollitt (Mike McShane and Harry Groener). As questions of the aging Big Daddy's health are raised, tempered, and reared again with a vengeance, mendacity is ripe in the air for the deteriorating family as Maggie battles Brick's brother, Gooper (Michael Kirby and Patrick Wenk-Wolff), and his wife, Mae (Tamara Krinsky and Jocelyn Towne), for a controlling stake in the future of the Pollitt empire.
The decaying atmosphere of the Pollitt household, so forcefully realized by scenic designer Steven C. Kemp, serves as a nightmarish playground for Williams' venom-spitting characters and is a delightfully ironic setting for a theatre's inaugural production in a brand new space. The intimate blackbox space is cozy and state-of-the-art, but director Cameron Watson's use of the space never fails to deliver a world-of-play that is eerie, disjointed and disorienting. Any avid fan can see, even merely from sitting in the house before the play begins, that this is ideal Tennessee Williams—expressionistic, subjective, and incomparably decadent. Boundaries in this space are either askew or non-existent, and the intentionally illogical placement and shifting of furniture imposes the psychological onto a reality desperate to stay grounded, demonstrating an impressive employment of the "plastic theatre" Williams strove for in his work.
But perhaps the greatest triumph of the show is the tight-knit, daunting acting ensemble that brings this forceful and merciless play to life. Particular highlights are Mike McShane and Julia Fletcher as Big Daddy and Big Momma, respectively. Although Brick and Maggie often get the most attention from analyses of the play, the tragedy in this often abusive relationship is what sets "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof" apart, as the hypocritical Big Daddy preaches family values while isolating himself from his own. McShane and Fletcher deliver incredibly intricate portraits of two very complex characters, with Big Daddy's perhaps most sympathetic quality being the awareness and disgust of the lies surrounding him (the biggest thing he has in common with his younger son, Brick) while Big Momma is forced to indulge in the mendacity of the household merely as a coping mechanism. Fletcher's unwavering care for her husband, especially in moments where it might seem impossible to have a shred of compassion for his actions, is both touching and disturbing, illuminating the nuance a master playwright imbues in his characters.
Daniel Bess also delivers a striking performance as the fallen football star, a hero so swathed in tragedy and almost cursed with outward masculinity that his ability to access and accept his own feelings is woefully lacking. Bess stands above many other actors who have taken on the character of Brick by living this inaccessibility with undeniable ferocity onstage, for Brick's greatest weapon is his apathy. Linda Park's Maggie shines the brightest in ensemble scenes, although the amount of text she carries in the opening act of the play is daunting for any actress, and she certainly lives up to the challenge.
Uninhibited and bold sound choices by designer Jeff Gardner make every transition in this play off-putting in the best way, forebodingly complementing the almost apocalyptic aesthetic vision of the play. Watson's direction in combination with the inspired design choices, and an audacious and uninhibited performances from ensemble members, including USC Theatre Professor John DeMita, Michael Kirby, and Tamara Krinsky compellingly illustrate the ferocity of "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof." As the Pollitt household is crumbling under the weight of lies, silences, and self-delusions, Antaeus is stepping into a bright new chapter of the theatre's history. If the explosive energy of "Cat" is the precedent, Los Angeles is sure to see some amazing work come out of this ever-growing group of artists in the future.
"Cat On a Hot Tin Roof" runs though May 7, 2017 at the Antaeus Theatre Company's Kiki and David Gindler Performing Arts Center (110 East Broadway,
Glendale, CA). Tickets run from $30 to $34. For more information, please visit www.Antaeus.org.
Contact Senior Arts and Culture Editor Ryan David McRee here.