Cat balances both humour and heartbreak

Western students' drastic transformation impresses audience

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof poster

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Theatre Western
Director: Dan Harvey

4 stars

Equal doses of humour and heartbreak made the weekend opening of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the McManus Theatre a success.

Theatre Western effectively transformed the downstairs stage of the Grand Theatre into a space of black comedy and intense emotion.

Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the tale of a dysfunctional family gathered at its plantation estate to celebrate the birthday of patriarch Big Daddy (Shaun Higgins). As the night wears on, the play delves into the strained relationship between Big Daddy’s favourite son Brick (Michael Ligeti) and his frustrated wife Maggie (Karyn Roantree).

Walking into the theatre was akin to walking into a private bedroom; watching the play was like viewing dialogue that would normally occur behind closed doors.

Brick and Maggie’s unused bed dominated centrestage, and as Big Mamma (Kendra Hamilton) astutely points out, if there are problems with a couple, the bed is the first sign of them.

The dynamic interplay between actors, dancing in and around family dysfunction, is what made the production a success. The lead roles were captivating and complemented one another.

Roantree as Maggie captured attention during the first act by using her musical southern drawl to delicately maneuver through emotional situations. In a play where most of the central issues remain unspeakable, Roantree expertly filled the silences with meaning " her reactions to Brick said more than words.

Ligeti as Brick remained mostly calm throughout the beginning of the play. Maggie’s falsetto speeches were balanced by Brick’s baritone quips, which were as funny as they were devastating. However, it was not until the second act that Ligeti truly distinguished himself as capable of handling Brick’s psychological complexity.

The interplay between Brick and Big Daddy during the second act was intense and revealing.

The family is deceiving Big Daddy about the true state of his health while it fights amongst itself for control of his inheritance. The only one who doesn’t participate in the power struggle is Brick, Big Daddy’s favourite son.

Higgins provided the play’s most drastic transformation in his role as Big Daddy. The superb use of makeup gave Higgins the look of an aged and dying man, so that Big Daddy’s appearance said what none of the other characters wanted to about his malignant cancer.

Since Big Daddy believes he has a clean bill of health, he wanted to use the opportunity to confront Brick about his alcoholism, his deteriorating marriage and his repressed homosexual desire toward his dead friend Skipper.

As Maggie and Big Daddy successively explore the problems plaguing Brick, all three characters are forced to confront painful and sometimes liberating truths about themselves and the ones they love. The cast and crew conveyed those truths to the audience in a memorable, humorous and touching way.

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