Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

I went to see this with my grandmother last week and am only now getting around to writing about it. It was a production I liked, but didn't love. And given that they're charging an arm and a leg for it one wants it to be fabulous. Instead, at times it feels flat, or at the very least as if the characters are not fully embodying their roles.

Terrance Howard, who plays Brick in this production was out in the show I saw and his understudy, while inoffensive and nice to look at, also wasn't terribly convincing. Anika Noni Rose is convincing as Maggie--although she was hard to hear/understand at times--and it lent the first act a bit of an unbalanced feeling. That wasn't too troubling though because Rose's Maggie is so captivating and intense a character that I didn't really think too much about Brick. The problems occur when Rose is offstage. She's pretty much providing all the fire in this production and no one else is nearly as galvanizing.

The moment Phylicia Rashad walked onto the stage the audience burst into applause, which I hate. No one's applauding her for the performance--it hasn't happened yet--and no one's applauding the character. They're just applauding Rashad for existing and stepping onto the stage. And there's a certain smugness to it all: we recognized this actor, we're in the know, we're going to applaud. I think it takes away from the actual work being done before us. That's a side note though. Far more problematic is the fact that I hated her portrayal of Big Mama. I'm not the biggest Phylicia Rashad fan; I've seen her in plays before and found her less then enjoyable. Nevertheless I was disappointed in the fact that Big Mama, as she plays her, is basically a caricature. It doesn't do justice to Tennessee Williams' writing.

James Earl Jones--subject to his own hearty applause upon entrance, of course--is not a caricature, but he's also not terribly interesting. The New York Times writes:
Mr. Jones is forced to play his character as a blustery but affectionate fellow whose vulgarity masks a good heart, not so different from the lovable codger he recently portrayed in “On Golden Pond.”
It's very true that the character is very like the one he played in On Golden Pond. There's not much sharpness to him and it takes a lot of the bite out of the play.

The audience was so loud that I actually missed bits in the beginning of the second act. We were sitting near a large group that had traveled to the city to see the show and the women behind us were basically holding a conversation a couple minutes into the act. Given that one of them had spent the end of intermission obliviously whacking both my grandmother and me in the face with her scarf I was fairly irritated. People were also eating some kind of chips or snack mix our of those loud crinkly bags. I'm really not the fussiest theatergoer but I do think it would be nice if people followed basic theater etiquette.

I've made this sound like a miserable experience though and that wasn't the case. It's a brilliantly written play and the production wasn't terrible, just tending toward the dull when Rose wasn't there enlivening it.



Dear Meg,

I will have to respectfully disagree with your comments on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I myself did see the show and thought that Rose's character was my least favorite. During first act she seemed to be moving quite rapidly in her speech and seemed to be very chatty at times.
And of course, the audience attending on the night I saw the show applauded for Phylicia Rashad this is a woman who deserves a standing ovation for her consistency in all the character that she plays. Her performance was excellent to say the least and it is quite understandable that the audience would applaud because they too knew as I that a wonderful exhilarating performance was yet to come. Again, Phylicia Rashad's performance illustrated her true passion for the art and how her talents affords her the capabilities of performing any character type that she portrays.
I am sorry that you did not enjoy your experience at "Cat" but I it seems as though you went into it with prior biases and qualms.

Meg said...

Hi Reachone, thanks for commenting.:)

I do want to clarify that I did like the production, as I said at the beginning of my post. I just didn't like it as much as I expected to. I wouldn't say that I went in with prior biases and qualms . . . Although I hadn't been enamored of Rashad in the previously I saw her in, I had assumed that was an anomaly and was looking forward to seeing her again. And I like both Terrance Howard and James Earl Jones a great deal. If anything, I think I went in with expectations that were unfairly high as opposed to qualms.

My issue with the applause when an actor walks on stage--the root of my annoyance, so to speak--is that I prefer to be swept up in the world of the play. When Rashad enters I don't want to think, "oh, that's Phylicia Rashad," I want to think, "Oh, that's Big Mama." I'm unhappy if I'm thinking of the actor rather than the character.

As for Rashad's performance, thank you for your comments. It's always fun to hear differing opinions that force us to go back and consider our own stance. As the cliche goes, the world would be very boring indeed if we all agreed on everything. While I didn't think she portrayed the character the way I would have liked, I do agree with you that she shows great passion for her craft. While not a favorite of mine, she certainly is an actor I respect.