Richard Hamburger

DTC entertains as it pounces on ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’

By Lawson Taitte / The Dallas Morning News

Tennessee Williams wrote the American theater’s best roles for women. Maggie the Cat in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is one of the most challenging – and you’re unlikely to see a Maggie who’s grander, earthier or more intense than Lorca Simons.

Ms. Simons is just one of many strengths of the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that the Dallas Theater Center opened on Tuesday. A half-century after its premiere, the play feels as up to date as a night switching channels on satellite TV. Maggie is fighting desperately to rebuild her marriage to Brick (Rick Stear), a former professional football player who drinks to forget his issues of sexual identity. Brick’s mother, Big Mama (Laurie Kennedy), is celebrating the news that Big Daddy (Dakin Matthews) doesn’t have cancer – but the doctor and the family have been lying to both of them.

Sports, sex, issues of medical privacy – what could be more timely?

Director Richard Hamburger takes a highly physical approach to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and consistently plays up its comic elements. This gives Ms. Simons all the permission she needs to take her role to the limit. Maggie is a force of life – frustrated at the moment, to be sure – and Ms. Simons glows with vitality, bursts with it.

That same freedom gives Mr. Matthews’ Big Daddy size and grandeur as well, but occasionally you feel he’s skating on top of the material, especially when he milks a laugh line like some vaudeville top banana. But Mr. Matthews captures Big Daddy’s pain in a big way, too, giving the play its full tragic as well as comic dimensions.

Mr. Stear wrestles with the problems all Bricks face – the character mostly just drinks and does his best to withdraw. The performer acts the part admirably, but he seems undersized, physically and emotionally, next to his heroic co-stars.

Even the smallest roles in this Cat have been luxuriously cast. As Maggie’s sister-in-law Mae, for instance, Kati Brazda turns in a finely shaded performance in a role that lends itself to easy caricature. Still, she doesn’t neglect the humor. She’s vivid, but she’s real.

Design is always top of the line at the Theater Center. Christopher Barreca’s looming set leans inward, set off by glowing chandeliers and shadows of Spanish moss that discolor the see-through walls like a cancerous black mold. Fitz Patton’s sound design brings Big Daddy’s outdoor birthday party right into Brick and Maggie’s bedroom.

© Richard Hamburger, Theater Director      Site design and maintenance by Amy Lacy.