New Cat

Man, I had to actually type in the full address to get to the site; that’s how long it’s been. Sorry, few and faithful.

I have done a LOT since leaving, mainly work-related. But I’ve also seen some pretty interesting stuff, one of which was my buddy Peaches’ role as Sister Woman in an all-black production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I listened to the dialogue in a way I never have before – partly because the black actors handled the built-in Southerness and sometimes melodramatic turn of phrase much more naturally than any white actors I’ve seen. Let’s face it, real southerners and pretty much all the black Americans I know and see at large in the culture (giving the deep south in many of their distant backgrounds) play a hell of a lot more with language than white folks in every other part of the country. There’s more music, and the expressions are more evocative. If you don’t believe me, compare “She’s stuck on him like glue,” to “She be all over him like white on rice,” and tell me which one’s more memorable and frankly more fun to say.

Things I liked about the production: Big Daddy and Big Mama, beautifully played; Brick’s anger, something I hadn’t seen before but that was interesting even when it didn’t always work; how much fun Maggie had saying “no-neck monsters;” and, of course, Peaches, who I don’t think can turn in a bad performance, particularly leading the “no-necks” in a murderously saccharine rendition of “Skin-a-ma-rink-a-dinky-dink.” Another thing I like was that it caused me to reread the play much more carefully; too old for Maggie, I am itching to direct any Williams (more on that later), and I wanted to see what I would have done differently.

So Maggie first. There’s a lack of inhibition with language in all Williams plays, and this one is no different. A sample line that never ceases to trip up Maggies around the country, including the one in this production: “If I thought you would never, ever, make love to me again, I would run down to the kitchen and take the longest, sharpest knife I could find and stick it straight into my heart, I swear I would!” This is always delivered with all the righteous thwarted passion that the young actress can muster – and it sounds ridiculous every time. Now, as a great acting teacher had to explain to me after I gave the typically over the top reading, of course Maggie has no intention of doing any such thing, she’s just a drama queen, created by the biggest drama queen of all time. So the line needs to be delivered with a light touch and even a little bit of a wink. It’s a line that’s at the crux of what goes wrong with Maggie: nobody ever really digs into her lines to see what she means because there are so damn many of them.

So I decided to start digging, and figured I should head straight for the thorniest aspect of Act I. The biggest difficulty in playing Maggie is telling the whole Skipper story, which goes on and on and is starkly expository.  Williams says explicitly in the stage direction that Maggie has to hold the audience in the palm of her hand from the start of the exposition to the Act I curtain, and, well…..yowch. I also think the whole Skipper/Brick sitch is tough for most contemporary actresses to get into the heart of because they’re surrounded by gay men constantly and really can’t see why Brick would have so much trouble with his man crush. The woman-hopelessly-attracted-to-a-gay-man dilemma is obviously SO different now than when Williams wrote it, the age of the lavendar marriage and a time when people didn’t just pretend Liberace wasn’t gay, it really didn’t even occur to them.

So I did something that actors never do: read ALL the lines, esp. Brick’s. And it occurred to me that the gay allegations are only part of the problem. Brick is SO PISSED at Maggie because A) she’s slandering(in his mind) someone he loved who’s dead, and B) she’s doing about the worst thing that a married person can do, telling Brick how he feels about things. In Act 2, his disdain, close to hatred, is clear; he’s convinced himself that Maggie planted this whole concept in Skipper’s head and that she basically killed his best friend. Which is EXACTLY what any addict does: deflect, deflect, and deflect again because as long as you can blame, you don’t have to deal with the real problem. It’s part of the greatness of Williams that he understands the games people play so thoroughly and yet doesn’t try to analyze, but just gets them up there for us to watch and confront. If Arthur Miller did this, the scene might go something like this:

“I said to him, Skipper, stop loving my husband, or tell him he’s got to let you admit it to him!”

“Maggie, I despise you! Thanks to your steely and catlike machinations, Skipper’s dead!”

Or something like that. I really should perfect my Miller satire, but that would require reading him much more closely than I care to. I’m not wild about Miller.

Anyway, realizing how twisted and deep is Brick’s hatred makes it a different play. Wms. says that Brick shies away from physical content as much as possible. Yet in this production, the director had him sit next to Maggie by choice. In the movie, Elizabeth Taylor’s constantly hanging on Paul Newman, who just looks sort of annoyed. Brick is about to puke most of the time. The booze is the only way to keep the bile from rising.

My production will rock. You can bet.

I would absolutely love to stage every single Wms. production, much like BBC staged all the Shakespeares over several years, back in the 80s (you can see these on video today, though I have yet to find one I’m really taken with). Wouldn’t it be cool? This may go the way of all the other millions of plans that I’ve had and never fulfilled, but……dreams are good.

And, by the way, I finally applied to Eastern this week to get a Masters in Theatre. (“re” is the subject at large, “er” is the building.) Because if I had a dream job, it would be teaching plays. So…we’ll see what happens.

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