No director’s note is included in the Playbill for the Ruth Stage revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which opened last night at Theatre at St. Clement’s. This is unfortunate because I would love to know Joe Rosario’s thinking behind his choices. I sat there wondering over and over, Why?
My biggest and most significant question is why he set this play about the Deep South in the 1950s in the present. The heart of the play is about Brick’s anguish over his homosexuality and his love for his high school friend, Skipper, which drives him to drink and away from his wife, Maggie. This is 2022. Brick and Skipper could be married and living happily ever after. They could even have their union blessed in many religious traditions. No guilt. No alcoholism. No Maggie. No story and no moving Tennessee Williams play.
Another major question is why was Sonoya Mizuno cast as Maggie. She’s skinny and flat-chested and has zero sex appeal. We checked the program after the first act and read that she was a ballet dancer before “making the transition to acting.” That explains the body, which is a beautiful dancer’s body. It also says this is her New York City stage acting debut. That could account for her unrecognizable Maggie, with a southern accent that left Williams’ witty and highly charged dialogue incomprehensible a great deal of the time. No dialect coach is mentioned in the program. That would have been money well spent for all of the actors. (Maybe there actually was one who is uncredited in the bios. The playwright is also not listed in the bios. Did they forget about him? He did, after all, win a Pulitzer Prize for the play in 1955.)
Another question is why present the show with such a low rent appearance. Brick (Matt de Rogatis) has tattoos all over his arms and onto his chest. With her big blond hair, grosely over made-up face and gaudy jewelry, Big Mama (Alison Fraser) looks like Ivana Trump resurrected. Matthew Imhoff’s set could be depicting a trailer park or cheap motel room. And Xandra Smith’s costumes look straight out of Target. Instead of slinking around in a classic white slip like the one made famous by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1958 movie version of Cat, Mizuno gallops about in an ugly gray glorified teddy. I was fortunate to see Elizabeth Ashley as Maggie in the 1974 Broadway revival. What a contrast. She filled that white slip beautifully too.
The Pollitts are supposed to be wealthy. Big Daddy (Christian Jules Le Blanc) is a crude, self-made man but the rest of his family, with the exception of Brick, are climbers. They might be tacky underneath but they should be displaying their wealth on their Mississippi estate.
I wonder what Williams would think of this interpretation of the play that was his favorite. Or his distant cousin the Rev. Sidney Lanier who, as the rector of St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, gutted the sanctuary in 1963 and build an Off-Broadway theatre. The parish and theatre continue to share the building on West 46th Street. I don’t think either would be pleased.