Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

This weekend, a step into Steinbach Theater is a step onto the breezy porch of a wealthy Mississippi plantation and into the twisted relationships of high Southern society. In the Theater 520 production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” director Mark Efinger and his cast of seventeen talented actors and actresses will have their audience to sit among the characters and become part of the world the play constructs. In the show, Anne Hunter ’10 plays Maggie, a vivacious but strong-willed woman who escaped a life of poverty when she married Brick. Brick, played by Ken Tharp ’11, is the son of the rich plantation owner Big Daddy, played by Ricker Bailey ’11. The entire family gathers for Big Daddy’s birthday party, including Big Moma (Carolyn Whittingham ’11), Big Daddy’s unwanted son Gooper (Julian Danziger ’11), and his wife Mae (Rei Konolige ’12). Everyone except Big Daddy and Big Moma knows about Big Daddy’s terminal case of cancer, and Gooper and Mae conspire to become his beneficiaries despite Big Daddy’s obvious preference for Brick. Maggie and Brick share the stage for most of the first act, and the audience is given a picture of their characters’ relationship. Maggie and Brick’s marriage is falling apart after the death of Brick’s closest friend, Skipper, and Brick’s subsequent drinking and alienation from his family. The play hints at Brick’s homosexuality, implying that his relationship with Skipper was more than a friendship. The second act follows a conversation between Big Daddy and Brick, in which Big Daddy describes his relationship with Big Moma and tries to confront Brick about his alcoholism and the reason behind it. Bailey’s loud, commanding presence is sharply contrasted to Tharp’s cold distance and underlying anger as the actors interact with the set and the audience around them. The entire theater is oriented around the audience’s ability to perceive and respond to the characters and the atmosphere. A set building and design class planned the set during the previous term so that the whole of Steinbach Theater becomes part of the stage. The seats surround a low central platform that is only a few feet from the audience, and the area around the seats is covered in green grass carpeting. Actors move through the section around the stage performing the various duties of a Southern plantation during the scenes on stage, so the audience has a real sense of being in the scene rather than observing it. Hunter noted, “It will help to have the audience so close. We get energy from the audience, so to have them right in your face is great, but it’s also hard to act for 360 degrees instead of just forward.” Efinger wanted to focus on this intimacy between the actors and the audience because the play is based off a “unity of time, which means the two hours of the play are actually two hours in the evening of the story.” He wanted the audience to fully appreciate what was happening and experience the events of the time frame in the play. Every element focuses on the audience’s full sensory experience of the scenes, including a complex scheme of lighting and sound operated by Redmond Colson ’10 and Aleks Huzar ’11, the smoke that would come from a firework display, and a wide range of props. Stage manager Annie Li ’10, assistant stage manager Christie Whalen ’11, and backstage hand Sam Percival ’10 organize each meticulous detail to keep the show running smoothly. Each small, crucial piece commands the cast and crew’s attention, from a quick birthday cake run before the dress rehearsal began to the mechanics of lighting a sparkler backstage. The end result, however, flows smoothly. Nikita Lamba ’11, who plays one of the “no-necked monsters,” commented, “I think the audience will really enjoy the different dimensions of the show, especially the unconventional seating arrangement. It changes your view as an actor and as an observer.”