Believable characters illuminate Arena’s `Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’

The lights dim as echoes of smooth jazz fill the room of the Mississippi Mansion. The air is thick and the day hot and sticky. Through the door comes the Cat. She enters the cool arena and stretches her luxurious limbs, a ray of light creeps through the window and embraces her.

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is a masterpiece written by distinguished Broadway playwright Tennessee Williams. In the Fichlander Theater at the Arena Stage, an impressive cast illuminates the brilliant work.

The most significant aspect of any theatrical production is the writing, and the script of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is incredibly powerful and intense. Williams is a master at capturing the essence of the Southern mentality.

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” glances into the dysfunctional lives of a husband and wife, Brick and Maggie the Cat. The two gather at the plantation of Brick’s father, Big Daddy, to celebrate Big Daddy’s 65th birthday.

Within the jubilant celebration looms the suspicion that Big Daddy is dying of cancer. As family members anticipate his death, the question of the inheritance arises. A power struggle ensues between the family members who are each motivated by separate means. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” exquisitely encompasses the paradigm of living externally while dying internally.

The Cat is portrayed by Megan Gallagher of “Hill Street Blues” fame. No stranger to the stage, she received a Theater World Award and an Outer Critic’s Circle Award for her role in Broadway’s “A Few Good Men.” Although the Cat has been played with greater effectiveness – Elizabeth Taylor played the role in the screen adaptation – Gallagher still is impressive.

Her husband Brick – the magnificent Brick – is played by German-born actor Peter Hermann. Brick is a dynamic character that demands a talented actor like Hermann.

The cast also includes Dion Anderson as the powerful Big Daddy and his wife Big Mama is played by Rosemary Knower. Mae and Gooper, the Cat’s in-laws, are portrayed by Sarah Marshall and Lawrence Redmond. The members of the supporting cast are a beautiful addition to the production and at certain intervals carry the show. The audience easily identifies with the scheming antics of Mae and Gooper who are an absolutely powerful duo.

The intimate Fichandler Theater of Arena Stage provides the perfect setting for the characters to develop their roles and transform theater into reality. The traditional minimal set associated with the production is ornamented to reflect the duality of the lives of the characters. The entire play takes place in this area, and the dynamics of the production allow audience members, at times, to forget about the set.

The creative elements of lighting and sound add to the feel created by the set. The two are consistent with the movement of the play and do not distract from the believability of the characters.

Viewing the characters as real people is an issue that confronts all theatergoers. People go to the theater to be whisked away to another place and time – a trip that leads to discovering something new about one’s self through the lives of the characters. In “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” the audience can relate to the characters and, therefore, as the show progresses, one can metaphorically feel their emotions.

If a play conveys reality, then it is a success. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” transforms words into life and theater into reality.

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” continues in the Fichlander Theater at Arena Stage through Oct. 18. Ticket prices range from $24 to $45.

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