An all African American headline cast, including James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Terrance Howard and Anika Noni Rose, highlight the strictly limited engagement of Tennessee Williams’ classic play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, at the NTelos Wireless Pavilion.
Directed by Golden Globe and three time Emmy winner, Debbie Allen, the production updates and makes clear the more subtle underlying theme of homosexuality that was in the original play.
Rose’s Maggie the Cat is a sensual, seductive, desperate wife, attempting to win back her alcoholic husband, Brick after exposing her husbands “pure friendship” with his best friend to be a relationship on the Down Low. Although never admitting an intimate, sexual relationship with Skipper, it’s clear that Brick could not accept his friend’s feelings and his rejection of Skipper caused his death and Brick’s subsequent descent into self-loathing and alcoholism.
Phylicia Rashad brings a special poignancy to the role of Big Momma. “What hurts me the most, she says to her hard hearted husband, is that you never believed I loved you. I even loved your hate.” Rashad’s portrayal of the long suffering wife, fulfilling her obligations as a dutiful, Southern lady looking for love in the only place society will allow her to was, at times, almost too painful to watch.
James Earl Jones, known as much for his famous voice as his consummate acting skills, put on an exceptional performance as Big Daddy; his profanity and careless verbal abuse reducing his family to the level of emotional hostages seeking love and approbation. As each family member interacts with their patriarch, their deep and long seated pain is evident to all. When Giancarlo Esposito playing first born brother Gooper cries out for common decency, his vulnerability outstrips his greed for his father’s 28 thousand acres.
But it is Terrance Howard’s performance that stands above the rest. Brick is a broken, former athlete and golden boy wallowing in hurt, regret and the inability to grow up. In the scene where Jones’ Big Daddy confronts his son’s alcoholism and possible homosexual relationship with Skipper, the two actors deliver such an intense performance of raw emotion that comments of sympathy were elicited from the riveted audience. It was obvious from the crowd’s reactions that they identified with these characters and felt their struggle and their pain.
The participation of the audience in the intimate Broadhurst Theater was also helped by Ray Klausen’s scenic and William H Grant’s lighting design. The setting in the bedroom of the family’s mansion helped keep the focus on the play’s sexual themes and the lighting made it seem like one could feel the innermost thoughts of William’s characters.
Talented saxophone player, Gerald Hayes, set the mood, playing the blues to transition each scene. All in all, this was a remarkable theatre experience that will be remembered for years to come.