56: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

16 May

It’s fascinating to read Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 56 years after it was written. The characters are as raw and fresh as they must have been at the first production, but the style in which Tennessee Williams wrote the play has changed drastically.

For starters, he’s published two alternative third acts: the one he originally wrote and the version he produced to suit the director of the premiere Broadway production. (I much prefer his original third act – it’s uncompromising and a lot stronger.)

Then there’s also the incredible detail he includes in his stage directions. Things like:

Margaret is alone, completely alone, and she feels it. She draws in, hunches her shoulders, raises her arms with fists clenched, shuts her eyes tight as a child about to be stabbed with a vaccination needle.

Cat next to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

The phrase “cat on a hot tin roof” is used to describe Margaret (Maggie) and also Mae – the two daughters-in-law of Big Daddy, an exceedingly wealthy plantation owner who is dying. Maggie is married to Brick, a man trying to lose himself in alcohol: desperate for that elusive click he gets in his head when he’s drunk enough. Mae is married to Brick’s older brother Gooper and the proud mother of five, soon to be six, children. A fact she uses to gloat over childless Maggie whenever possible.

Big Daddy hates his wife, Big Mama, and can’t stand his oldest son either. Like some of the Irish plays I’ve been reading, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is filled with family members who can’t abide each other, cloistered under the same roof. It’s powerful fodder for drama.

MARGARET: Laws of silence don’t work … When something is festering in your memory or your imagination, laws of silence don’t work, it’s just like shutting a door and locking it on a house on fire in hope of forgetting that the house is burning. But not facing a fire doesn’t put it out. Silence about a thing just magnifies it. It grows and festers in silence, becomes malignant …

Yet it’s Brick’s silence that seems to prompt the revelations and monologues of the other characters. If he responded to them in the way they wished, they might not need to go as far as they do in their recriminations.

Publisher: Signet

Cast: 7F, 7M (includes 4 children and 2 servants)

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