Classic ‘Cat’ finds another life in stage performance

Anthony Miller, Opinion editor

The National Theater Live production of Tennessee Williams’ 1955 classic, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” was mostly a success.
The play focuses on two characters named Brick and Maggie. They’re stuck in a loveless marriage in the 1950s Deep South. They live on a massive plantation owned by the family patriarch, Big Daddy.
As is revealed very early on in the play, Big Daddy has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He doesn’t know that he is dying yet, as the doctors told him that he was just suffering from a spastic colon as a way to ease him into it.
Aside from his wife, however, everybody knows the truth. On his 65th birthday, the whole family has gathered on the plantation, and with this knowledge in mind, everybody is itching to convince Big Daddy to leave the estate to them.
Most of the plays scenes focus on the interactions between the cast, as they scheme with one another, argue with one another and try to navigate this incredibly difficult situation that they have been thrust into.
As a result, all of the characters of the play are incredibly well-developed and interesting. Brick, who acts as the story’s central character, is one of the most complex figures in American theater.
He starts the play as a distant, uncaring and unsympathetic husband.
However, as the play rolls on and the reasons why he’s so miserable become apparent, one can’t help but feel sorry for him.
The same goes for Maggie. She’s a character who is incredibly unpredictable, erratic and hateful, yet also sympathetic and likable.
It’s hard to write a character whose introduction involves her calling a bunch of children “no-neck monsters” and still have her come across as sympathetic in the end, but Williams pulls it off.
Even characters who don’t have many speaking lines, such as the conniving Gooper, get a surprising amount of depth with the amount of lines they are given. Williams manages to make everybody in the play feel like a real person, even if the character in question only gets a few lines of meaningful dialogue.
While it was also like this in the original screenplay, it is really brought to life by the actors in this production.
Jack O’Connell gives a showstopping performance as Brick, swinging from dejected depression one minute to frothing rage the next, all without it feeling out of place.
Sienna Miller’s performance as Maggie is also killer. But who really surprised me was Colm Meaney as Big Daddy.
Big Daddy is possibly the most complicated character in the work.
Even after reading the play multiple times, and now having seen the play live, I still don’t know what to think about him.
He’s a character who can be wrathful and controlling one minute, only to be caring and tender in the next.
Every character in the work has a different opinion of him. Some see him as just the means to an end, while others see him as a great man being brought low by cancer.
The actor has to be able to accommodate these thoughts through his performance.
It is difficult to present a character like this, but Meaney manages to do so incredibly well.
The acting was solid across the board, except for one scene toward the end of the play.
In this scene at the climax of the play, a certain character is supposed to be yelling in horrible emotional and physical pain.
However, the delivery of the yell left much to be desired.
It sounded less like someone in horrible pain, and more like an actor giving a less-than-stellar impression of someone being in horrible pain.
It sounded, for a lack of a better term, fake.
This might seem small, but this cry is one of the big emotional cornerstones of the play.
It’s a yell that acts, in some ways, as the emotional climax of the story. It’s the equivalent to the “All are punished” line in Romeo and Juliet.
The tragedy and horror of the work summed up in one animalistic cry.
It’s a horrific and tragic moment, but it is sadly undercut in this production by the lackluster delivery of the yell.
It completely took me out of the experience in a time where I should have been entirely invested.
Besides this aberration, the direction was solid.
I can’t say much on this part due to spoilers, but one thing I will say is that I love how the set got continually desecrated as the play went on.
It was as if the disintegration of the room was reflecting the ways the characters were feeling as the play progressed, and I thought that it was just an incredible touch.
In all, while it has a few issues, the National Theater Live production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was a success.