Leaving the house in the middle of a snowstorm isn’t the most enticing idea.
On Saturday evening, a committed audience did just that, venturing to Portsmouth to see Domino Theatre’s opening weekend production of Tennessee William’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. While the play is supposedly one of William’s greatest works, Domino’s production elements fell short, despite the cast’s strong performances.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof follows a family over one evening of drama in the Deep South. The main characters Brick and his wife, Maggie, are fighting because he hasn’t slept with her in months. Meanwhile, Brick’s father, Big Daddy, is dying, and a dispute over the inheritance has caused a rift between the family and Brick’s brother, Goober, and sister-in-law, Mae.
The audience isn’t told who to root for in the spat. Neither character seems to be on the right side of things: Brick is an abusive alcoholic and Maggie is manipulative and cruel—and the roots of their issues become evident throughout the play.
Brick’s extended family isn’t much better. Brick’s mother, Big Mama, appears helpless; Big Daddy is abusive, and Brick’s brother and sister-in-law are desperately greedy.
Part of these characteristics are because the play was written in 1955, with another era’s social norms. What I see as abusive now might’ve been viewed as acceptable back then. This retrospective look at family life—through the lens of modern day norms—is especially evident in Domino’s production. The production leans on negative traits of the characters, highlighting the failures of the social standards of the time.
Maggie’s relationship with Brick is the clearest example. Portrayed as a conniving and sly woman, her real issues stem from a dependency on her husband. She was born poor but married rich. To keep her status, she needs to get pregnant—something Brick refuses to make possible.
It’s a dark dynamic, but the harsh reality is that women were often dependent on their husbands’ wealth for survival. Understood in this context Maggie’s behaviour is less reprehensible, but modern portrayals still need to take modern standards into account.
Williams was writing for his time, but productions can create scenes where modern ideals are infused into older stories.
Perhaps part of the issue is the show’s most revealing moments were overshadowed by loud, off-stage noises. The children’s screams, fireworks, and off-side conversations between characters were a regular feature of the Domino production, and I found these to be incredibly distracting.
For example, in a long confessional scene between Brick and Big Daddy, the children enter singing loudly while multiple sets of firework noises went off in the background. The characters reacted appropriately, but the volume was overwhelming. At times I forgot what had just happened because of the sudden changes and disturbances.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a challenging play to produce, and the actors were a credit to their characters, but the production still had some kinks.
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