Cat on a Hot Tin Roof explores secrets

Theatre Western play about dysfunctional Southern family

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Karyn Roantree and Mike Ligeti

DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof actors, Karyn Roantree and Mike Ligeti, share heated moments onstage tonight in Mcmanus Theatre at the Grand.

What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof? Just ask Theatre Western.

Having rehearsed Tennessee Williams’ 1955 play for at least six hours every weekend this past month, the dynamic cast of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is ready to tackle the Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

Theatre Western coordinator Alex Paterson chose Cat on a Hot Tin Roof after his roommate suggested the idea. The cast was large enough with an equal number of male and female roles, the set was simple yet symbolic and the play itself was well known, but not overdone.

“The more I read into the script and how it was received, it just seemed to fit more perfectly,” Paterson says.

After hearing Theatre Western was looking for a director for the play, Dan Harvey, a fourth-year MIT student, jumped at the opportunity.

“I actually had a bit of experience in the past with the play itself and I’ve had fun with it, so I said, ‘Hey, I’ll give it another shot.’”

Fifty auditions later, Harvey and Paterson finally found the ideal cast for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

“That’s the thing that amazes us. When we look at the actors and actresses now, I can’t picture anyone else being their role " it’s perfect. There’s no casting regrets at all,” Paterson says.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a story about a dysfunctional Southern family gathered together at its Mississippi estate to celebrate the birthday of tycoon Big Daddy Pollitt (Shaun Higgins). Over the course of one evening, the play focuses on the turbulent and sexually-repressed relationship of husband and wife, Brick Pollitt (Mike Ligeti), and Maggie “The Cat” (Karyn Roantree).

Brick’s brother, Gooper (Anastasios Dimitropoulos) and his wife, Mae (Dorothy Charach), attempt to gain control of the family’s inheritance after discovering Big Daddy has cancer. Heated emotions surface and heavy issues like alcoholism, suicide and homophobia are explored throughout the play.

While the play was written over 50 years ago, Harvey notes how those issues are still prominent today. He says people who come to see the play will be familiar with issues of sexism, suicide or alcoholism.

“And at the same time, it’s not even those issues but issues in general,” Harvey says. “It comes down to everyone deep down inside having their own little secret ... everyone has something to hide and the audience can reflect on that.”

Compared to the 1958 Oscar-nominated movie starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor, Harvey says there’s much more freedom in theatre than in film.

“If you look at the onscreen production, Hollywood just totally downplayed [it]. They had zero homosexuality in the movie and a lot of the alcoholism was downplayed " people aren’t going to like that if they have it onscreen. Now, it’s ‘okay’; it’s normal for us to show stories like this,” Harvey explains.

Despite the depressing themes, Paterson mentions moments in the play that are meant to be funny.

“[Some moments] are supposed to be quite humourous but it’s sort of a tragic humour where it’s in the middle of all these lies and tragedy ... If it was just two solid hours of alcoholism, homophobia and cancer, the audience would just leave there going, ‘Oh my God, why did I just spend $15?’

“There’s heavy messages, but that’s the thing that I think our cast has done a pretty good job at: highlighting those moments that are supposed to be quite enjoyable,” Paterson says.

For Karyn Roantree, who plays Maggie, it’s a very mental process of switching into character. Described by her castmates as perky and high-spirited, the second year arts/math student pauses before she goes into the unhappy character of Maggie during rehearsal.

“There definitely is a mental process I have to go through because essentially I’m becoming a different person,” she says. “It’s an art of representation. Throughout rehearsal, I’m building this character as I go and building it into a fine art so once I get on stage and I’m in front of that audience, that’s when it’ll become an artistic perfection for me.”

Part of the transformation included pulling off the Southern accent without sounding “trashy.”

“[With Maggie], you don’t want her to sound like a redneck, you want her to still sound sweet and have a musical voice,” Roantree adds.

Tonight is the opening show and the cast is brimming with excitement to present something they’ve been working so hard on.

“Everyone’s going to go into it and take something out of it. I don’t think you can tell them what to expect because every single person is going to be dealing with their own life [and] dealing with reality,” Harvey says. “And reality is a difficult thing for anyone to deal with.”

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof begins tonight at 8 p.m. and runs until Saturday, Dec. 1 at McManus Theatre, located in the Grand Theatre. Tickets are $10 for students / $15 regular admission and can be purchased at InfoSource or the Grand Theatre.

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