A2CT curls up to Williams' 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'
Photo by Tom Steppe
And while this may sound more like fun than work, director Kat Walsh—a former Texan herself—noted that the otherwise demanding nature of the rehearsals is “physically exhausting. These actors tell me that they go home and just collapse after rehearsal.”
Partly, this stems from Walsh’s philosophy, wherein the actors work as a true ensemble to create the play’s world together.“From the beginning, I told the cast, if we make this show solely about Maggie and Brick, it’s going to fail,” said Walsh. “It’s about everyone on the stage. Yes, the play focuses on the relationship between these two characters for a longer period, especially in the first act, but there are also lots of moments where the outside world is trying to break in, too.”
The play, which premiered in 1955 (and won the Pulitzer Prize), focuses on the wealthy Pollitt family of Mississippi. The Pollitts have gathered to celebrate Big Daddy’s 65th birthday, which everyone knows—except Big Daddy and his wife—will be his last, since he’s suffering from cancer. Big brother Gooper and his wife Mae, parents to five children, are making a play for the family inheritance, while neglected, feisty Maggie and her alcoholic, former football star husband, Brick, do battle over the coldness that’s settled over the marriage since Brick’s best friend’s suicide.
Dialogue-wise, the actress playing Maggie (Anna Heinl in A2CT's production) must carry the weight of the first act on her shoulders; but Walsh lets interruptions by Mae, Mama, and the croquet game happening outside (depicted with shadow puppets) break it up.
“That’s the gift the cast gives the leads,” said Walsh. “No one can have that intense of a conversation for 45 minutes. So Williams provides breaks to diffuse it, and uses humor. If it’s done successfully, that’s what’s supposed to happen there.”
Many people associate “Cat” with the 1958 film adaptation starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. But the play appeared on Walsh’s radar as a young teenager who fell in love with Wiliiams’ writing.
Even so, “Cat” will mark Walsh’s first attempt to direct a Williams show.
“It’s terrifying to approach the work of Tennessee Williams, and that’s a good thing,” said Walsh. “As artists, whether you’re working at the community theater level or you’re a professional, when you’re scared, you have the potential to create something really good. Williams also just has this way of painting a picture of life in the South. Having been from there myself, I was recently talking with the cast about two really important characters in the play: God and the land. For Southerners, they’re both just part of daily life. We may take these things for granted, but it’s important to Tennessee Williams’ world, especially in Mississippi.”
Why, though, did Walsh seize upon “Cat” as her Tennessee Williams play of choice?
“It really is just about this family, and how they’re all trying to find meaning,” said Walsh. “We’re all trying to find acceptance, and when we don’t get that, what’s left? The land? A baby? They’re fighting for these other things because they don’t get the acceptance they crave. And that’s our story, too. The one we’ve inherited as human beings.”