‘Cat On A Hot Tin Roof’ Comes to the RTC

 ‘Cat On A Hot Tin Roof’ Comes to the RTC

By Dan Guarino

“Liars! Liars! Liars!” A voice booms from off stage during rehearsals for “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” at the Rockaway Theatre Company (RTC). And at that rafter quaking sound, all the characters gathered there, all their pasts, passions, schemes and swirling storms of desires are sent suddenly spinning into motion under the hot stage lights.

This Pulitzer Prize winning play by renowned American writer Tennessee Williams opens on Friday, May 31, and runs for nine breathtaking performances through Sunday, June 16, at RTC’s John Gilleece theatre at Fort Tilden. Tickets are available at www.rockawaytheatrecompany.org.

Sunday shows are at 2 p.m., while all evening presentations start promptly at 7 p.m., and not at 8 p.m. as is usually the case with RTC shows.

“The play’s main themes include lies, deceit, gender and sexuality,” co-director Jodee Timpone confirms. “The title is a direct reference to the character Maggie, often called ‘Maggie the cat.’ It refers to someone that is doing something harmful to themselves, either physically or emotionally, that they must do in order to survive. Tennessee Williams has been quoted as saying that he got the idea from the patriarchal, domineering father of a friend, actually called ‘Big Daddy,’ who often used the phrase, ‘nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof.’”

Adapted from Williams’ short story, “Three Players of a Summer Game,” “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” debuted with an all-star cast on Broadway in 1955. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for Best Play, and numerous Tony Award nominations. In 1958, it was made into a highly-nominated film starting Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman.

On stage, Timpone notes, “the play tells the story of the Pollitt family, coming together to celebrate the birthday of Big Daddy, the patriarch of the family. The story centers very much on self-reflection…or the lack thereof.” It is very much set in motion by events and secrets starkly revealed throughout the drama.

Co-director Susan Corning readily recalls, “Ever since I started directing at the RTC, I have dreamed about directing ‘Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.’ As a drama student in the 70s, we spent many hours studying the incredible Tennessee Williams. There is no other dramatic writer like him,” she says, adding that after graduating college, she herself “had the honor of being cast as Maggie in our local community theatre. It was an experience of a lifetime.”

“I think the opportunity to put on a Pulitzer Prize winning play was too enticing (for us) to pass up,” Timpone agrees. “Although it is difficult because the characters are so complex, peeling away the layers has proven to be both challenging and exciting.”

In discussion during a cast break in the emotional rehearsal, she, Corning and the actors note several of the drama’s rawer elements were removed or glossed over when the play was made into a film, to make it more “appropriate” for the screen. Though the film was still racy for its time, all those “missing” original elements are present and on full display in RTC’s production.

Timpone points out for instance, “In the play, there is a fair amount of innuendo” concerning a certain character’s sexuality, which “was eliminated from the film. From what I have learned during research, plays were allowed to deal with more risqué topics than film was.” Movies, then governed by governmental censorship codes, were strictly prohibited from touching on a wide variety of provocative subjects. “It seems the film, ‘Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,’ was required to eliminate any and all such references,” Timpone said. “Tennessee Williams was more than a little displeased with the movie.”

Even under bright lights, with a grand set under construction, and props and stage furniture pieces yet to be finalized, each RTC cast member strives to bring out all that is in the story, in their characters, their movements and the stage drama as a whole. Together, they and the production crew have one goal, to make this the best production it can be.

“We are lucky enough to have chosen a very dedicated group of actors. They are working very hard to unpeel the layers of these complicated characters. We’ve had so many discussions about each one and it is heartwarming to see how much thought they have all put into this.”

RTC’s “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” stars Cassaundra Reed as Maggie, Jimmy Grant as Brick, Samantha Artese as Mae, and Brain Sadowski as Gooper. Big Mama is played Luisa Boyaggi and Big Daddy by Robert Wilkinson, with Frank Freeman as Reverend Tooker, David Risley as Doctor Baugh and Caroline Minson and Mairead Henning as Trixie at alternating performances. Some faces may be familiar from previous productions spanning from musicals to comedy to drama, while others will be newer to RTC audiences.

The directors themselves are experienced both as performers and behind the scenes, with Corning directing “Hello Dolly” and starring in “Regrets Only” last year, and Timpone also starring in the comedy “Regrets Only” and co-directing “The Miracle Worker.” Though they have worked together for years before, both agree it has been a privilege to now collaborate as directors for the first time “to bring this play to the RTC stage for our audiences to experience the world of Tennessee Williams.”

They advise all to buy their tickets early and “escape reality for a few hours. We promise that this production’s dream team presentation will be an experience of a lifetime.”

So, will the Pollitt family’s scheming, heat, secrets, emotions, passions, and drama break and boil over on stage?”

And what does that phrase “Liars! Liars! Liars!” mean, and who is booming it out from just off that stage?

Well, one will just have to come, enjoy and be plunged into the world of Tennessee William’s masterwork “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” at RTC to find out.

Photos by Dan Guarino.

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