I saw a production of A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof this week. The production left me anxious and full of meh-ness (SOAP BOX ON: I just don’t like being shouted at for two hours. It doesn’t make me think you’re being dramatic or intense. It makes me think you’re lazy because you chose the easy emotional out. SOAP BOX OFF) but the script really wowed me. Great frames, bad lenses.
I hadn’t read this particular Tennessee Williams before. I have a vague recollection of seeing the movie and a vague recollection of the themes. But it seems to me Cat was the summit for which he was reaching through out his plays. The Glass Menagerie feels so… naive in comparison. And that’s not an insult to Menagerie, I adore it. But it seems shrouded in a distant sweet haze against the piercing jabs of Cat.
Williams is a master at showing the family who falls apart, but never has the crumble of southern decay laid waste such devastation as in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. There is character decay, moral decay, the decay of the body, decay of language – I’m sure Big Daddy’s liberal use of four letter words were a shock to the system in the 1950’s.
Within the crumbling decay there is a whirling dervish of repetition. Lies are told on top of lies. The phone rings and rings. Conversations circle without ever getting anywhere, characters enter and leave like a ferris wheel, lines are repeated – the phrase ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ is said five times in the first act alone. Life is being repeated over and over again in a trap. To some, the constant repetition will feel jarring and out of place. Uh, yeah. That would be the point. Again, we’re being jabbed at with a sharp stick.
And at the end there is neither clarity nor closure. Further decay is imminent. Big Daddy still faces death. Maggie is still barren despite her declaration to the opposite. Brick is still broken. How did all this play in the 1950’s Leave it to Beaver era? I wonder…..