Southern plantation patriarch Big Daddy is celebrating his birthday and the remission of his cancer, and his son Brick and his wife Maggie are getting ready for the party. More or less. Brick has a broken leg and is drunk already. Maggie worries about Brick’s brother Gooper and his wife Mae who she believes are trying to cut them out of the estate. And that’s not the only tension in the family. And things aren’t exactly great between Brick and Maggie either.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a fantastic play with strong characters that give you an intense look at human relationships. And since we’re talking Tennessee Williams, it’s also depressing as fuck.
Williams has a deep understanding of people and it shows in every one of his plays. He’ll dig into the characters, peeling back layer after layer until he gets to their inner workings, especially their disappointments and their pain. That’s where he’s a real expert and his analyses of people always carry a punch. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, he dissects Big Daddy, Brick and Maggie above all, while Mae and Gooper remain a little paler. Big Momma is somewhere in between.
In any case, these are characters I would be afraid to play if I was an actor. They are not only challenging in their characterization, there are also Williams’ descriptions of them: he has a wonderfully lyrical way of capturing a person (I really need to read some of his prose), but I wouldn’t want to have to live up to those descriptions.
All of the characters could have been unlikeable, but you get to know them and their vulnerabilities so well that they’re not. And some of the revelations – like the history with Skipper – are just really heavy for everyone involved and had me tearing up. The only thing that really didn’t work for me where the fatmisic moments.
I really appreciated the edition I got. First, it has a great foreword that was already a beautiful read and second, it includes not only Williams’ original ending, but also the ending Elia Kazan developed for the play’s premiere on Broadway. Kazan’s ending is a little tougher to read because he relied on abbreviations and shorthand a lot and I did like the original ending better – it just seemed to be the better fit for the story – but it was interesting to see the changes.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is not a play that will leave you happy – but then, you really shouldn’t turn to Williams if that’s what you want.
Summarizing: Really good.