Right on cue, every adult member of the Pollitt family either lies about their true feelings and intentions or avoids saying what they’re up to, another form of “mendacity” (lying) in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” which opened on Venice Theatre’s MainStage April 12.
However, there is hope, if you stay with this Tennessee Williams Pulitzer Prize-winning play through to the end. There is a lot going on in this play that takes place in just one setting – Maggie (Amanda Heisey) and Brick Pollitt’s (Patrick Tancey) bedroom.
Tim Wisgerhof’s scenic design perfectly equals the oversized stately bedroom/drawing room one would equate with a Southern plantation. Scene changes come into focus with appropriate varied lighting crafted by designer John Michael Andzulis and sound enhancements by Casey Deiter’s sound design.
The room is the main setting because Brick broke his foot just prior to the family gathering that unfolds to celebrate his father’s 65th birthday – “Big Daddy,” that is.
Amid the cacophony of Maggie ranting at Brick as the play opens about her frustrations with his lack of husbandly attention and his alcoholism, noisy outbursts from the four children belonging to Brick’s brother, Gooper, and his pregnant wife, Mae, some dialogue is hard to decipher. It will be a while before the whole story is revealed.
Add to that, there is a sullen Brick who doesn’t seem to care about anything Maggie is saying, and as she foists attention on him, he backs off, preferring to sip his favorite bourbon. He continuously refills his glass throughout the play, awaiting a certain “click” that lets him know he has had enough.
The audience learns that Brick and Maggie’s problems run deeper than just a marital spat. He is angry at her for accusing him of having had unnatural feelings for his best friend, Skipper, with whom she attempted to sleep with to discover if he is gay, and it most likely ended in a failed attempt. Adding salt to the wound, Skipper committed suicide soon after.
She is angry with Brick because he prefers getting drunk over making love to her so they can conceive a child, which would help ensure them being on the receiving end of Big Daddy’s 28,000-acre plantation. She tells Brick he should not turn a blind eye to Gooper, an attorney with several children as potential heirs, who is trying to block Brick from an inheritance, since there is no will.
Maggie tells Brick: “I feel like a cat on a hot tin roof” – adding that she wants a child and is lonely. He tells her to jump off the roof and suggests she get a divorce.
The two fight, and Brick pulls off some remarkable physical feats. While one foot is in a cast, he lunges out to strike her with his crutch a few times, falling over pieces of furniture, and he often hops from his settee to the bar for another drink, hopping up a step each time to reach his liquid gold.
Big Daddy (Murray Chase) enters and talks about how relieved he is that the medical test he had showed no cancer but a spastic colon instead. Big Mama (Mary Kurtz) enters, excited about the test results and the celebration underway for Big Daddy’s birthday.
She plops down beside him and he immediately gets up because he can’t stand her. She tries to show affection for him, but Big Daddy says he doesn’t think she ever really loved him. Asking him later about that, says she can’t believe he would say that, that she does love him. His response is a soft commentary as an aside: “What if that were really true?”
While all of the acting would fall into the superb category, the most memorable highlight of the play is the pressing conversation Big Daddy has with Brick. In one regard, Big Daddy and Maggie seem to be on the same page — they both want Brick, who the family members recognize as the favorite child, to stop drinking. Big Daddy takes on the father-son challenge whole heartedly, to the point of mental anguish for them both.
“Son, you’ve got a real liquor problem,” Big Daddy said. “A man who drinks throws his life away. Don’t do it,” he commands.
Big Daddy takes away Brick’s crutch and demands to know why he drinks. He says he will give him a drink when he can reveal the real reason he drinks. Brick says he blames Maggie for what she tried to do with Skipper, but Big Daddy searches deeper into why Brick is so upset. It’s not something Maggie did.
Finally, Brick says he drinks to “kill his disgust.” Big Daddy asks what he is disgusted with and Brick responds with “mendacity” and “pretense.” Big Daddy points out that Brick really started drinking when Skipper died and asked him what really happened and when did he last talk to Skipper.
Skipper called him when Maggie was there and said something Brick couldn’t respond to, so Brick hung up the phone, and the next thing he knew, a short while later, Skipper was gone. Was Skipper in love with Brick?
“That was your own mendacity; you’re passing the buck to Maggie,” Big Daddy yelled out. As emotions swell, Brick, with tears in his eyes, turned on Big Daddy saying something about the many happy returns on his 65th birthday when “everybody knows there won’t be any.”
Sadly, Dr. Bough (Jack O’Keefe) attends the party and did confirm that the cancer biopsy on Big Daddy came back positive for cancer, and he told the family, all except for Big Daddy.
So truths come out between father and son, then later Maggie and Brick as she takes away his bottles of booze and says he can take to drink after spending time with her, as she turns down the lights in the bedroom and the play draws to an end.
“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” runs through April 28. For more information about times and tickets, call Venice Theatre, 941-488-1115, visit: venicestage.com.