Springfield Theatre Centre is presenting Tennessee Williams' drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof this weekend, March 14 through 16, in a production directed by Ed Smith.
If you're wondering why STC seems determined to revive old Williams plays (it produced A Streetcar Named Desire in 2001), perhaps these 50-year-old war horses are back in fashion. Take a look at the Kennedy Center in Washington. The Kennedy Center announced last week it plans to mount a 10-week festival next year celebrating the work of Williams. The festival will include new productions of The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof--as well as a new work: Letters From Tennessee: A Distant Country Called Youth, which will star Richard Thomas.
Lyle Leverich wrote the most extensive biography of Williams to date, 1997's Tom. That book was the first in a planned three-volume biography, and it provided a deep and comprehensive look at the man who would become Tennessee Williams. It ends with The Glass Menagerie, his first stage success. Unfortunately Leverich died before finishing the next volume in the series.
While upsetting, the unfulfilled project seems strangely appropriate--a wonderful opener followed by disappointment. Look at the wealth of ambition and lack of fulfillment in Williams' characters as well as his work. The writing is beautiful, but the subjects are depressing. In this, Williams fits right in the American dramatic canon, providing a distressing antidote to American optimism. But most of our great American classics--I'm thinking of such plays as Long Day's Journey Into Night, Death of a Salesman, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?--also offer some hope of redemption, no matter how warped their endings may be.
Yet I'm not sure exactly what hope can be gained from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof--the lies society forced on these characters no longer seem relevant. The play is so sad, and populated by such unhappy characters. The outcome isn't redemptive--it's more like a surrender. There is some humor, but during this time of upheaval in the world I find myself rebelling at the play's mean streak, and its basic pettiness.
That said, director Ed Smith has assembled a professional-level cast, who bring this dysfunctional southern family to terrifying, vivid life. Smith succeeds in creating the appropriate stifling atmosphere, and the tight ensemble acting reminds us that Springfield is home to some high-caliber talent, including Amy Wyckoff, Troy Kent, and Regan Smith.
Wyckoff played Stella in STC's production of A Streetcar Named Desire and here she gets to play Maggie, a great part. Barbara Bel Geddes originated the role on Broadway; Elizabeth Taylor starred in the film version; Kathleen Turner was in a Broadway revival a few years ago; and Ashley Judd is set for a new Broadway production.
"I'm excited and a little terrified," says Wyckoff about playing Maggie. Described by the family patriarch Big Daddy as the "Cat," Maggie may more appropriately be likened to a chameleon, always ready to change to manipulate a situation. "She has so many different character traits."
For tickets to this weekend's performances, call 523-0878.
Other theater news
Auditions for the summer Muni Opera season begin this weekend with adult sessions taking place March 15, 16, and 22. Children's auditions are on March 30. The summer season will include Titanic, Big, My Fair Lady, and The Wizard of Oz. All auditions take place at Glenwood High School in Chatham.
Randi Hard directs the musical Cabaret, currently playing at the Parkland College Theatre in Champaign through March 22 (call 351-2528).
March in Springfield means it's high school musicals month, starting with this weekend's production of Kiss Me, Kate at Springfield High School (March 14 and 15 at 7 p.m.), followed by Fiddler On the Roof at Pleasant Plains (March 20 to 22), Pippin at Glenwood High School (March 21 to 23), and Les Miserables in an edited-for-schools version (March 28 and 29 and April 4 through 6).