‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’: a production far more than skin deep

By |2018-01-16T04:10:18-05:00October 11th, 2007|Entertainment|

By Robert W. Bethune

In Barton Bund’s production of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Blackbird Theatre, a clock chimes. Time is passing, Big Daddy is dying. Brick is absorbing an entire magnum of hard liquor. Maggie the Cat is clawing at Mae and Gooper for Big Daddy’s money. Brick, going back and forth to the bottle on his crutch, is a human pendulum, ticking off the hours until something in this horribly twisted family has to give.
Renell White as Brick has a pendulum in his mind. The gearing in his head refuses to shut down, no matter how much liquor he pours over it. An utterly hopeless alcoholic, he is the only character who both sees and tells the truth. He is the perfect Southern gentleman, polite, calm, careful. Even trying to kill himself with liquor he never pours more than two fingers at a time. All he can feel is disgust, and we see it in every quiet fiber of the man.
Qumara Muhammed, as Mae, and Ruell Black, as Gooper, give us precisely what Williams had in mind: people whose inner slime is so deeply a part of them that they have no conception of it. Bund’s direction shows all the justifications they give themselves, and we see through them, and never want to like them one little bit.
Lynch Travis plays Big Daddy. He is very large and powerful. It’s eerie how such size and power never gives you the impression that he is in control of anything. Quite the opposite, his entire world is collapsing while his family is scrapping over the meaty parts of it like hyenas at a kill.
If Toni Walker’s Maggie really were a cat, it would be one of those rail-thin, rock-hard, coal-black, yellow-eyed killers you see disappearing into alleys in places that don’t like cats. She is built for one purpose only: survival. She will put her brains, her beauty, her body, and her man to any use necessary. One moment says it all: dressed in clinging red, she comes into the room where Big Daddy is alone and strikes a pose against the side of the door that would light matches at fifty feet. She does it to remind Big Daddy of his “lech” for her, and keep him thinking about her while he’s thinking about his will, and that’s all.
Except for Bund himself as Dr. Baugh, the cast is entirely African-American. The effect is surprisingly small. From time to time, we hear the language of the oppressor from the lips of the oppressed. The casting creates brief notes of implausibility, due to the impossibility in that time and place of African-Americans doing some things that these characters speak of doing. What matters here is a group of superb actors doing a splendid job of bringing Williams’ characters to vivid, gripping life. Ironically, this all-African-American production shows why colorblind casting works. Actors this good would make it work regardless of race or color.

‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’
Blackbird Theatre, 1600 Pauline, Ann Arbor. Fri.-Sun., through Nov. 13. Tickets: $20. For information: 734-332-3848 or http://www.blackbirdtheatre.net

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Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.