Saturday, December 11, 2010

'Brick'-Solid Rendition of 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' Is Well-Worth Raven About -- Theater Review

Photo from
Theater Review

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
a play by Tennessee Williams
Raven Theatre, Chicago
Thru January 15, 2011

Whenever I see, and subsequently review, almost any type of show--play, musical, rock concert, opera, classical or jazz concert, even movies--whether consciously or inherently I am really evaluating two components concurrently: the material and the performance.

In seeing Tennessee Williams' classic play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on stage for the first time, last night at Chicago's Raven Theatre, I feel I saw an excellent rendition of an absolutely phenomenal play. According to my "Reviews Key" on the sidebar at right, I think this means I should give it @@@@.

But just a few weeks ago, upon seeing Williams' play Sweet Bird of Youth at Chicago's Artistic Home theater, I gave it @@@@, for it was an excellent version of an excellent play. But 'Cat' is a considerably better play than 'Bird'--I think this is a pretty common opinion, even just based on their historical stature. So although the performances given by the fine actors in each company were probably about equal, and the production values--scenery, lighting, etc.--were first-rate at both, in terms of my rating as a recommendation, I have to give 'Cat' @@@@1/2.

Both Williams plays are worth your while and running locally through mid-January, with tickets typically available for under $20 through HotTix, so take 'em both in if you can. But if you've never seen either, except for the movies--both starring Paul Newman--go with 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' at the Raven.

Though I can imagine the interpretation being a bit more forceful with a top-tier Broadway cast--star power seems to lend itself well to Williams' scenarios, including A Streetcar Named Desire--the cast at Raven did a typically fine job. I loved Raven's take on Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman' last year and Jason Huysman, who played Biff there, plays Brick here and does a great job. He's not quite Paul Newman, but then who is?

And while Liz Fletcher likewise doesn't quite exude Liz Taylor's movie magnetism as Maggie, she too is excellent, as she was when I saw her in 'Streetcar' at the same venue some years back.

Jon Steinhagen and Joann Montemurro also do very stellar work as Big Daddy and Big Mama.

But truly the star--with due respect to the cast & crew--is Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning script. Unlike the movie version, which had to veil any references of homosexuality between Brick and an unseen friend named Skipper (if you know the play or movie, you know why Skipper is unseen), the play doesn't hold back. It's easy to imagine how daring, perhaps even scandalous 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' must have seemed back in 1955 and Act 2 (of 3), in which Brick opens up to Big Daddy, is one of the most riveting I've ever seen.

Perhaps one day I might see an even better production of this iconic American work, but the Raven's rendition served as an excellent introduction and, especially for the price, is hard to beat. Even by another superb presentation of an excellent Tennessee Williams play.

No comments: