Richard Hamburger

Just Purr-fect

By Lawson Taitte / The Dallas Morning News

Editor’s Note: Third in an occasional series about this fall’s Tennessee Williams drama revival.

Why this play now? Cat on a Hot Tin Roof may be Williams’ most timely and political play. You have Maggie’s desperate attempts to survive. The economic reality for her is that if she doesn’t produce a child she’ll be thrown out of the family – remember the line in the play, “You can be young without money, but can’t be old without it.”

Also it’s the story of an athlete written in 1955 – it deals with the human cost of the sport, which is still not done much. And how Brick deals with his homosexual feelings as an athlete. There’s Big Daddy’s illness – how the whole family handles the news of his cancer with layers and layers of lies. That’s very much of its time. Finally, this play wrestles with money and wealth in a very grotesque and powerful way.

Are you taking any special approach to it? I feel the characters are at a very precarious time in their lives – a turning point as to what will become of the estate. Designer Chris Barreca and I have decided on a set where the walls lean forward, as if they’re about to collapse, and the walls are scrims – they’re porous, with nobody having any privacy. Then there’s the ascendance of Maggie: Finally, moxie wins out. She takes over the estate because Big Daddy realizes she’s the most powerful person. It’s very interesting that it’s a powerful woman who scrambles her way to the top. She says the lie – that she’s pregnant – and then she makes it happen.

Have you ever worked on a Williams play before? A Streetcar Named Desire was my first play at the Dallas Theater Center. I chose it to inaugurate my moving down here, and I chose it because it’s about the contrast between the old South, personified by Blanche Dubois, and the new industrial America, as embodied in Stanley Kowalski,

How would you rank him among American playwrights? Among all playwrights? Among American playwrights, right up there with Eugene O’Neill, Lorraine Hansberry, Arthur Miller, Ben Hecht and Tony Kushner. Among world playwrights ... his work is not as great as The Three Sisters or Hamlet or The Oresteia, but it’s just one notch down. But I challenge anybody to write better plays.

What’s your favorite Williams play? The Night of the Iguana . ... I saw the movie as a kid and then went out and bought a copy of the play, read it on the baseball field and couldn’t put it down.

What Williams character do you identify with most? I’d have to honestly say all of them, because of the breadth of his understanding of people. Everybody in the audience should be able to identify with every character. But my favorite character is Big Mama – which is different from identifying. I love her ruthlessness and her identification with Big Daddy.

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