There's something powerful that happened on the corner of North Avenue and Howard Street. Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" played the Load of Fun Complex through November 27 and through the brilliance of Tennessee Williams, we witnessed this complex Southern family portrait as they battle with issues of greed, immortality, sexuality, alcoholism, poverty and complicated father and son/wife and husband relationships as they gather to celebrate Big Daddy's 65th birthday.
Big Daddy was a powerhouse masterfully played by Percy W. Thomas. He booms at his family and they cower and run. He insults his daughter-in-law, Mae/Sister Woman, and his wife, Big Mama, with equal ferocity. Yet, his two sons (or actually their wives) stay close in the hopes of winning the grand prize – the 28,000 Pollitt Plantation – when Big Daddy dies. Despite his bluster, Big Daddy, has some touchingly tender moments when he sits with his favorite son, Brick (played stiffly but with sensitivity by Michael Page (I)), a former college football player turned sportscaster turned unemployed man struggling with his sexuality and drinking for consolation. In a way only fathers and sons communicate, Big Daddy says to Brick, "You I like for some reason. I tell you the truth and you tell me the truth." Despite their honesty, Brick cannot bring himself to tell his father the truth that everyone knows, that he's dying from cancer.
Maggie the Cat, Brick's wife, played by Lauren Blackwell, provided another captivating performance in this production. She's a sexual being trapped in a sexless, childless marriage, but stays by her man in the hope of eventually living a grand life as an heir to Big Daddy. Maggie works desperately to convince her husband to share her bed in the hopes of getting pregnant so she can breed like her sister-in-law, Mae/Sister Woman, (played by Raina Dewald) who she refers to as "the monster of fertility" since Mae has produced about five grandchildren. Maggie refers to the children as "those no-neck monsters." (Kudos to 3-year old actor Khari Gregg who stands up to Big Daddy's evil eye during his birthday performance for his grandfather!).
The touch of humor in Williams' play was a refreshing breath in this heavy family exchange. Big Mama, played by Penny S. Demps, offers the comic relief in her role as family matriarch and ditzy wife to Big Daddy. When she grabs the pastor Rev. Tooker, played by Cris Elliott, and throws him across her lap, you just have to laugh out loud at the move.
The Load of Fun Complex is an intimate theater that allows the actors to almost pull you on stage into the drama. The play promotes the inter-racial casting of the characters, but the show was so compelling that this neither attracts nor detracts from the story unfolding. In this season of thanksgiving, I am thankful that my family is nothing like the Pollitt family of Mississippi.