Richard Hamburger

Old ‘Cat,’ new roof
Theater Center puts its own interpretation of Tennessee Williams on Dallas stage

By Mark Lowry / Star-Telegram

DALLAS -- Tennessee Williams never could resist a good storm.

He frequently uses lightning and thunderclaps to mirror the interior tempest among his characters. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the storm arrives in the third act, as the Pollitt family assembles to break the news about Big Daddy’s health to his glass-half-full wife Big Mama.

In Dallas Theater Center’s production, the lightning flashes large over Christopher Barreca’s handsome set of the bedroom of Brick (Rick Stear) and Maggie (Fort Worth-raised Lorca Simons), whose gauzy walls are jaundiced and blackened, as if decaying with cancer.

That’s nothing compared with the hail-pelting restiveness established early in director Richard Hamburger’s interpretation. From the moment Simons’ Maggie enters, we’re aware of this production’s feverish physicality.

Everyone, except Brick with his leg cast and crutch, seems to be racing for something. Maybe it’s a connection, maybe it’s another way to continue all the mendacity that so disgusts Brick.

The pace of this Cat is unlike that of the leisurely, slow-drawling versions you’ve seen. Williams’ intentions and poetry are precise, but he allows room for interpretation.

And this production takes advantage, beginning with Simons, who breaks with traditional portrayals of Maggie. Hers is an underplayed, almost awkward sense of sexuality that underscores the drive that took Maggie from poverty to trophy wife (even though Brick won’t sleep with her). It’s a brave, hypnotic performance.

Stear, meanwhile, mixes anger and disregard as naturally as whiskey pours over rocks. It’s hard to be a convincing drunk, but he chronicles the descent well, barely holding onto coherence through glazed eyes.

The comedy comes with Dakin Matthews’ blustery Big Daddy and Laurie Kennedy’s heartbreaking Big Mama, both of whom stop just short of caricature (especially with Matthews’ Foghorn Leghorn speech); and in Kati Brazda’s delightfully foolish Mae, wife of Brick’s brother Gooper (Matthew Gray).

Somehow, in all this agitation, Hamburger preserves the play’s atmosphere of isolation. There’s more than one way to skin this Cat.


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