On this day in 1955, Tennessee Williams’ play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” opened on Broadway. It won the Pulitzer Prize for drama that year and now, 59 years later, has experienced many revivals on stage in addition to three film versions.
The story of the 65th birthday party for “Big Daddy,” the play takes place at his plantation house in the Mississippi Delta. Family members struggle to relate to each other as they try and keep the secret that Big Daddy is dying of cancer, while main characters Brick, Big Daddy’s son, and Maggie, Brick’s wife, try to save their marriage. A fear of Brick’s homosexuality is woven throughout the play, along with the spirit of his dead friend Skipper.
The original Broadway production was directed by Elia Kazan, with Burl Ives as Big Daddy. Since then, the part of Maggie has been played by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, Kathleen Turner, Jessica Lange, Ashley Judd, Mary Stuart Masterson and, most recently, Scarlett Johansson. Brick has been played by Paul Newman, Robert Wagner, Tommy Lee Jones Jason Patric and Terrence Howard, with the coveted role of Big Daddy going to Ned Beatty, James Earl Jones, Laurence Olivier and Rip Torn over the years.
Just in time for the 2014 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival this past weekend, The NOLA Project brings its own version of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” to the stage through March 29. In a panel on the endurance of “Cat” during the festival, NOLA Project Director Beau Bratcher said it was daunting to produce a play that’s known mostly by its movie versions. He chose to include the optional third act, which features more of Big Daddy, and make the bed the focal point of the set to emphasize Maggie and Brick’s problem of procreation.
The panel, which also included Tennessee Williams scholar Robert Bray and Brenda Murphy, author of The Theatre of Tennessee Williams, agreed that “Cat” endures because of Williams’ ability to create unique female characters that push the envelope.
The NOLA Project’s production represents “Cat”‘s return to the New Orleans stage for the first time in over a decade. Actress Cecile Monteyne is the perfect, desperate embodiment of Maggie and, while no one can match Elizabeth Taylor in that white slip, she comes close. Performances take place at Le Petit Theater in the French Quarter. And for a special treat, “Mad Men” actor Bryan Batt takes the stage for one night only on March 30 for “Batt On A Hot Tin Roof,’ a benefit performance for Le Petit Theatre and The Forum for Equality. Tickets range from $30-$50.