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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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The Antaeus Theatre Company has bid farewell to its cramped North Hollywood home and opened a new space in Glendale constructed around their needs. Long awaited, the venue is beautiful, spacious, and comfortable, with an 80-seat main stage and a 49-seat black box. The inaugural production is Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

The original production of Cat was a sensation, despite the fact that director Elia Kazan forced Williams to rewrite much of the play. The text, particularly the last act, was censored to conform to the sensibilities of the time. A film adaptation was even more popular, though it further watered down Williams’ story. And there have been five Broadway revivals. Yet the play has never resonated with me.

I wondered if Director Cameron Watson could breathe the same kind of life into Cat that he managed with Picnic, another iconic play of the 1950’s with a popular film adaptation that always struck me as a period piece in production. That is, until Watson and his talented cast exposed the beating heart of those characters in the justly lauded Antaeus production.

Cat is all about sex and money. The money is the enormous sum that Big Daddy (Mike McShane) will leave when he dies. His recent diagnosis of terminal cancer has made that a pressing concern. The sex in question is that which is not happening between Maggie (Linda Park) and her husband Brick (Daniel Bess). Like a medieval queen, Maggie knows that the only way to secure their position as the heirs to Big Daddy’s fortune is to provide a son. However, Big Daddy and Big Mama (Julia Fletcher) have not made it a secret that Brick is the favorite child.

The first act is an occasionally interrupted virtuoso monologue delivered by Maggie. Maggie is using every weapon in her arsenal to get Brick back into her bed. Brick focuses on drinking until he hears a certain “click”in his head that he has had enough to drink which signals peace for him. His infrequent responses are terse and hate-filled.

Brick claims that he blames his wife for the death of his best friend Skipper. But it’s clear that the drinking is an attempt to deaden his own feelings of guilt for having spurned his friend following a drunken confession of love.

Throughout the play we will watch Maggie wheedle, wrangle, cajole, and seduce in her ruthless aim to assure the major portion of the inheritance for Brick. Her major opponents are Brick’s brother, Gooper (Michael Kirby), and his equally determined, if far more obvious wife, Mae (Tamara Krinsky).

As with all Antaeus shows, the roles are double-cast and this review covers the “Hoppin’ John” cast. Park is an attractive and commendable Maggie. She handles the character’s mercurial flights of dialog with absolute clarity and commitment. During that treacherous first act, she hits a strong level of attack fairly early, and, once there, finds little opportunity for variation.  This is not a problem during the rest of the play. Bess, who is Park’s real-life husband, allows Brick’s character to develop slowly. While numerous accusations are flung at him, his secrets, which he clings to with something like Maggie’s desperation, remain his own.

Big Daddy is a scene-stealing, life-force of a role, and McShane’s charismatic performance of this ingratiating monster deftly conjures the man’s oversized nature without grandstanding. Fletcher’s deliberately self-deluded Big Mama is beautifully realized, and Krinsky is deliciously hypocritical as the eavesdropping and scheming Mae. Kirby manages the extraordinary feat of making the ineffectual Gooper memorable.

Watson’s direction shines in his character-building work with the actors, though there is less nuance than I expected. With Scenic Designer Steven C. Kemp, he has created an off-kilter room for the family combatants to inhabit. The general sense of instability is exacerbated by the furniture moving between acts. Jeff Gardner’s evocative sound design does much to enhance the production.

Kiki and David Gindler Performing Arts Center    March 23 – May 7, 2017    www.antaeus.org

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.