“What do you know about this mendacity thing? Hell! I could write a book on it! I could write a book on it and still not cover the subject. Think of all the lies I got to put up with!–Pretenses! Ain’t that mendacity? Having to pretend stuff you don’t think or feel or have any idea of?” This line from Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, artfully encapsulates the quagmire with which we find ourselves in relationships, as a society, and – horrifyingly – within the political climate of our country: forced to survive within an unending battle of truth and lies, all for varying purposes, leaving us struggling to clarify fact from illusion – either finding our place within the world or succumbing to the madness it provokes. It is this exhausting battle for honesty that influences the characters of The Antaeus Theatre Company‘s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which recently inaugurated the company’s new home at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center in Glendale, CA. In a powerful production that expertly examines the depths to which humans will augment, reshape, and blatantly disregard the truth to maintain their place in the world, avoid their fate, or willfully remain ignorant of its costs, Antaeus’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof deftly tackles one of Williams’ most incredible masterpieces at a significant time in our history, when mendacity knows no bounds and threatens to be our undoing.
Directed by Cameron Watson, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof marks an exciting beginning for Antaeus in their stunning, new performing arts center. The production takes place in an 80-seat theatre, providing an accessible and increased work space for the cast and crew to delve deeply into the content. Set in the 1950s in the Mississippi Delta, the play centers around the members of a prominent Southern family on a bountiful, 28,000-acre lot of land that is coveted by kin and town folk alike. The focus of the story, though, is on the dysfunction of the family members as they gather to celebrate the 65th birthday of Big Daddy, patriarch of the plantation and the reason for its thriving success in the cotton industry. While a birthday is a likely reason for family to gather, the true reason for the festivities is that Big Daddy is dying of cancer, a fact that has been kept from him and his wife, Big Mama. Older son Gooper and his wife Mae (with 5 children in tow and one on the way) dutifully dote on Big Daddy with dollar signs in their eyes, while younger son Brick spends his days at the bottom of a bottle to his social climber wife Maggie’s dismay. What unfolds is a three-act masterpiece that examines the impact of the lies these characters tell one another and the lies they tell themselves to avoid the blatant honesty that comes from greed, unrequited love, sexuality, and death. Whether between a strained marriage, a father-and-son bond, or jealous siblings, Antaeus’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof skillfully portrays the malleability of deceit through Williams’ scathing cultural commentary.
In bringing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to the stage, Antaeus’ endlessly talented ensemble of players remains unparalleled in the Southern California theatre scene. The versatility and profound depth with which the actors mine their characters captivate audiences so fully that it is not uncommon to see theatregoers leaning forward in their chairs, completely enveloped in each scene. As is the tradition of Antaeus, the performance is “partner cast,” where two actors share every role, allowing a more active and encompassing creative process by which the actors may rehearse, develop, and experience their performance from varying perspectives. What is always so valued of Antaeus’ performances is that the ensemble as a whole flawlessly complements and provides a platform for its featured players to shine. I was very fortunate to see a production with Daniel Bess as Brick, Linda Park as Maggie, and Mike McShane as Big Daddy, with the three players delivering commanding and heartrending performances that were simply breathtaking to watch.
In moving to a new location, Antaeus’ commitment to high-quality, vibrant theatre remains intact and on fully on display. Their latest production perfectly exemplifies the company’s willingness to empower their casts and delight their audiences with thought-provoking theatre that explores timeless stories and enduring characters.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof will play at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center through May 7th, 2017, with performances on Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $30 on Thursdays and Fridays, and $34 on Saturdays and Sundays.
*Photo by Steven C. Kemp