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Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Majestic Repertory Theatre
Review by Mary LaFrance


Adam Martinez and Breon Jenay
Photo by Julio Castillo
"Denial is not just a river" could be the subtitle to Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The characters are wedded (both figuratively and literally) to the convenient lies they have been living. In a spirited production of this American classic, the Majestic Repertory Theatre makes the play feel fresh and timeless—a tribute to both Williams' mastery and Troy Heard's confident direction.

Cat, undoubtedly one of Williams best plays, portrays a southern plantation family gathered to celebrate the birthday of its crude and hard-hearted patriarch, known as Big Daddy. Several of them suspect, however, that Big Daddy's days are numbered, and he has yet to announce which of his two sons will inherit the massive estate. Elder son Gooper hopes that Big Daddy will favor him because his ridiculously fertile wife Mae has produced copious offspring to carry on the family name. But Big Daddy's favorite has always been Brick, the former athlete whose life has spiraled downward since the death of his beloved friend Skipper. Unfortunately, the alcoholic Brick seems unlikely to produce any offspring, as he prefers to curl up with a bottle of whiskey rather than his wife, the sexually frustrated Maggie.

While beautifully written, Cat places heavy demands on its performers. Act one is a near-monologue by Maggie (aka the Cat), while act two is a similar turn by Big Daddy. The captive audience for each of these self-centered manifestos is the passive Brick, engulfed in a haze of alcohol and unable to escape the verbal onslaught due to the broken ankle he earned by drunkenly jumping hurdles on the high school track the night before. Act three brings the whole family together as the proverbial stuff hits the fan.

Breon Jenay does a fine job as Maggie, conveying both her vulnerability and her inner steel. Jenay has a natural stage presence essential to this feline role and holds nothing back, even as she performs only inches from the audience. Maggie's frustration and misery are palpable, but so is her determination.

Adam Martinez is also effective as Brick. The challenge of this role is to convey the inner turmoil beneath the tuned-out exterior. For the most part, Martinez succeeds. At times, however, he seems truly amused by the selfish behavior of those around him. For a soul in torment, such a healthy perspective seems improbable.

As Mae, who parades her children like trophies, Kady Heard scores some of the evening's best laughs without breaking a sweat. Her performance is convincing proof that the best comedy comes from an actor's wholehearted commitment to the character.

Erik Amblad's performance as Gooper sneaks up on you. In the first two acts, the character is so bland as to be almost invisible. When Gooper attempts to take command in act three, the understated but riveting Amblad once again demonstrates his exceptional technique.

As the foul-mouthed, cruel and bombastic Big Daddy, Ronn Williams gives a somewhat uneven performance. He seems oddly ill at ease during Big Daddy's less blustery moments. Once he cranks up the heat, he is more convincing, especially when he turns his malevolence on Big Mama.

Susan Lowe Shaky brings terrific stage presence and dignity to the role of Big Mama, whose devotion to Big Daddy never waivers, despite his open disdain and the cruel indignities to which he subjects her. It's a moving portrait of an abused spouse living in deep denial. In an evening of fine performances, Shaky's subtle and heartbreaking interpretation may be the most memorable of all.

While all of the performers adopt serviceable Southern accents, in many cases their diction suffers. Amblad and Shaky are notable exceptions, capturing the beautiful enunciation of the upper-crust South.

Amy Gallach's stunning black and white set will have you rethinking your home decor. The color scheme carries over to Kathy Wusnack's fine costume design. Although uncredited, the make-up and hairstyling in this production are unusually good. Marcus Randolph's lighting design is also effective, and enables the play to open with a great visual of one actor behind the gauzy curtains. A small technical let-down is Andrew Young's sound design; what is supposed to sound like a croquet match simply doesn't, and the singing field hands sound like a commercial recording. It's also a bit distracting that two of the three no-neck monster children are slight and willowy, and there has been no attempt to disguise their swan-like necks. (The youngest fits the description somewhat better, due largely to Wusnack's creative collar design.) Except for these minor flaws, the technical and design aspects of this production are comparable to the best of Off-Broadway.

On the heels of its fine production of An Octoroon, the Majestic Repertory Theatre proves once again that it can do justice to serious American playwrights.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof continues through January 28, 2018, with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 5 pm, at Alios, 1217 S. Main St., Las Vegas NV. (Due to road construction near the theatre, allow extra time.) For tickets ($25) or further information, go to www.majesticrepertory.com.

Cast:

Maggie: Breon Jenay
Brick: Adam Martinez
Big Daddy: Ronn Williams
Big Mama: Susan Lowe Shaky
Gooper: Erik Amblad
Mae: Kady Heard
Doctor Baugh: Robert Langford
Reverend Tooker: Sandy Beall
Lacey: Rayne Robinson
Dixie: Susannah Cummings
Polly: Riley Spicer
Buster: Ryzer Spicer


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