Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the Berkshires

Re-posting my lengthy piece on the production I saw of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 2016, in honor of the anniversary of the play premiering on Broadway.

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On the evening of July 4th, I took the Mass Pike west, far west, to the Berkshires to see the Berkshire Theatre Festival’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by David Auburn (not only a gifted director but a Pulitzer-prize winning playwright for Proof). He’s directed a couple of productions in the Berkshires, including Sick and Anna Christie. The main stage is nestled in the middle of the green mountains, trees curving in around the theatre (the theatre has been there since the early 20th century.) It’s a beautiful space.

The production starred Rebecca Brooksher as Maggie, Michael Raymond-James as Brick (he’s mostly known for his role on True Blood, but also the great and unfortunately short-lived series Terriers – and here, he’s coming back to the stage after 8 years away) as Brick, Linda Gehringer as Big Mama, and Jim Beaver (from Deadwood and Supernatural) as Big Daddy. Filling out the cast of characters was Jenn Harris as Mae (that “monster of fertility”, as Maggie calls her), Timothy Gulan as Gooper, and David Adkins and Brian Russell as the tipsy preacher and the doctor, respectively.

 
 

Jason Sherwood did the evocative and non-realistic scenic design. The set did what a set should do: put the audience in the right mood for the play the second they walk in the theatre doors. Dominating the stage was a gigantic white bed, and surrounding it were four old pillars leading up to a white ceiling panel with a chandelier hanging. Everything was open: no walls or doors. Along flats on the three sides of the stage stretched a horizontal panel showing a blue sky filled with puffy white clouds. The whole thing looked like a slightly-dissipated Southern summer dream.

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Rebecca Brooksher as Maggie, Michael Raymond-James as Brick. Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware

The superb production in the Berkshires was an important reminder of the sheer stature of this play. Tommy Lee Jones (who once played Brick) said, when he came and spoke at my school, that he thought Cat may be Tennessee’s “only truly GREAT play.” Tennessee Williams’ body of work is one of the most extraordinary in 20th century American theatre, but I agree with Jones. The structure was a radical departure for Williams, but the themes too – and the MOOD – were also unique for Williams. The play unfolds in Three Acts, but the action onstage plays out in real time (it could be played with no scene-breaks). The script is a massive symphony with multiple “movements,” one instrument dominating here, another instrument added there, a theme rising before submerging itself into another variation. One character steps forward (metaphorically) in each act and talks for 5 or 6 pages with almost no interruption. The script is choral in structure.

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Jim Beaver, Rebecca Brooksher, Brian Russell, David Adkins, Michael Raymond-James, Linda Gehringer. Photo by Emma Rothenburg-Ware

From the very first moment of the very first scene in this production, with Maggie (the astonishing Rebecca Brooksher) racing around the room, shouting to her husband offstage, ranting about the “no-necked monsters” (brother Gooper’s 5 children) downstairs, all while trying to get the stain out of her dress, re-applying makeup, rolling down her stockings, rolling on new stockings, all as she talked non-stop in a frantic and irritable (and very funny) way, even as he refuses to respond … I knew that this was a production that had (to quote my acting teacher in college) “its fingers on the pulse of the playwright.” You could feel it. Instantly. Brooksher understood Maggie’s frustration, pain, and humiliation (more than anything else, Maggie is humiliated), and every line shimmered with some or all of those emotions. But on top of all of that, was Maggie’s life force, her hope, her determination to make things right with her husband, to say the difficult things, do the difficult things. It’s life or death for Maggie, and Brooksher’s performance is life or death. She was phenomenal. And so so smart with the language. (If there was a joke to be found, she found it.) She made Maggie’s terror at being poor comprehensible, visceral. You could see Maggie as a child, a barefoot girl in a dirty dress. Maggie’s not a gold-digger. She’s practical.

There’s so much going on in Maggie’s determination to get her husband to sleep with her, her desperation about why he won’t and what that means, her guilt about what happened with Skipper, her terror of being “old without money” (she has that great line: “You can be young without money. But you can’t be OLD without money.”) and her NEED to have a child so that she can solidify her position in the family. It’s extremely complex, and it all happens simultaneously. No wonder so many actresses are damn near “sunk” by Maggie. (Tennessee Williams joked once in a letter that actresses were “ruined” playing his roles, and he felt bad about it, but what could he do?) It’s a monster of a part, and watching Brooksher in action was awe-inspiring.

Michael Raymond-James was a revelation as Brick. Every Brick is different. Every actor is going to approach it in a different way, every production is going to have a different “take.” Because Brick is like that: Brick is a VOID. You could fill that void with anything, or you could leave it be, and accept it as a VOID. And that’s what is so terrifying about Brick. So difficult for actors to capture, maybe because actors feel like they need to, you know, be ACT-ive. Brick’s absence (even when he is present), his passivity, his fatalism, IS active … but still, the challenges are multifold. Raymond-James’ Brick was so absent up on that stage that he became (as he should be) the focal point of every scene, every character. Everyone else talks so much and talks at the same time in a wild cacophony, and Brick sits in the background, cast on his foot, drinking. The big question: Why? Why does Brick drink so much? Why? – is the question on everyone’s minds. What has HAPPENED to him? I think Brick may be the scariest character that Williams ever wrote, and he wrote some pretty scary characters.

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Rebecca Brooksher as Maggie, Michael Raymond-James as Brick. Photo by Emma Rothenburg-Ware

In every moment, every gesture, every interaction, you could feel Raymond-James’ Brick needing that drink. At one point, I noticed he was about finished with one glass, and I actually found myself getting anxious for him. He needs to fill up that glass! It was such a codependent reaction it was awesome. Raymond-James also found the dry humor in Brick, those single lines sailing into the mountains of texts from Maggie or Big Daddy, cool and dry and … airy … nothing touching earth. Floating. In the stage directions in the script for Cat, Williams often puts the word “vaguely” before Brick’s lines. (Williams was a big one for detailed emotional notes throughout his scripts.) It takes a LOT to “engage” Brick, to wake him from his stupor. Maggie is unable to do it in Act One, except for when she makes the mistake of mentioning Skipper. Big Daddy breaks through in Act Two, and the result is explosive. Brick is far far gone at the time the play starts. The best and truest thing in his life is gone. He is disgusted with mendacity, disgusted that his relationship with Skipper is tarnished by other people “calling it dirty”. His alcoholism is ACTIVE. He drinks until he feels what he calls “the click.” Peace comes with “the click” and he can’t stop drinking until he feels it. “The click” is one of the most chilling images in Williams’ entire canon. Even the other characters in the script acknowledge how scary the term is: when Brick tells Big Daddy what “the click” is, Big Daddy responds, “Jesus!”

Another thing that was so great about Raymond-James’ performance was you could see, over the course of the three acts, how drunk he got. It was a progression and he, the actor, was totally in charge of it. At first he was buzzed, and then at some point he got so sloppy he could barely get up off the floor. His inhibitions started to fray, his balance got even worse, and his emotions started to bubble up closer to the surface. It happened in real-time on the stage and was reminiscent of those moments at wild parties where suddenly people are no longer buzzed but wasted and it seems to happen instantaneously. Like: “wow, when did THAT happen?” Raymond-James clocked every step of that drinking-journey, but he did so in a way that it looked effortless. It was happening TO him. I can’t remember who said it – maybe John Wayne? or Dean Martin? – that the way to “play drunk” is not to weave around the stage. The way to “play drunk” is to do your DAMNEDEST to walk in the straightest line ever. Do THAT and you’ll look drunk to an audience. (Actors wanting to play drunk: Watch any Gena Rowlands drunk-scene. She’s in a class all her own but if you’re going to learn, you might as well learn from the best!)

I loved the placement of Raymond-James’ voice. There was a drawl to it, not just in accent (although that was beautiful and natural too), but in feel and mood. That “vague”-ness again. When Big Daddy gives him a hard time (understatement), Brick doesn’t fight back. Brick agrees with everything everyone says. Yes. He’s a drunk. He’s a loser. He’s a let-down. He agrees. He just doesn’t care. To not care to THAT degree, and still be a compelling figure onstage, is one of the major challenges of the role. Brick is filled with self-pity and yet at the time of the play he is beyond open expressions of it. You ache for him, especially because you can still see the confident golden-boy athlete that he once was. When Raymond-James exploded at his father, defending his relationship with Skipper, what you also could see was panic and terror that his father “thought so too” (that he and Skipper were romantically involved). Brick is a toweringly tragic figure, and Raymond-James gives a heartbreaking performance.

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Rebecca Brooksher as Maggie, Michael Raymond-James as Brick. Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware

One of the things that Williams says about Big Mama in the script is that she is “sincere” and Linda Gehringer was so fantastic showing the sincerity of this loud-mouthed anxious worry-wart Mama-Bear, racing around the house trying to keep everything together. Big Daddy says to Brick later that we all have to live with “mendacity”: Mendacity is the oxygen we breathe. Big Mama has her own web of lies she has created, and she – like Maggie – is ferocious in her determination to LIVE, despite the lies, or even because of the lies. If that means pretending that her husband isn’t as cruel to her as he actually is, then so be it. If that means engaging in gossip about Brick and Maggie, then so be it. She has her reasons. As obnoxious as she is, when Big Daddy turns on her, you cringed and ached for her. She looked, suddenly, smudged and shattered. Gehringer galumphed around the stage in her bright green outfit, always on the verge of either tears or bright uproarious laughter, sometimes at the same time. And, like Williams suggested: all of it was sincere. Beautiful work! Big Daddy observes to Brick later that his two sons both married women who had the same “anxious look”. Big Daddy might not see it but he married a woman with that look too.

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Linda Gehringer, Rebecca Brooksher, Jenn Harris, Timothy Gulan. Photo by Emma Rothenburg-Ware

The reason I went to see this production (and I feel so fortunate I was in Massachusetts anyway and could get over to see it) was to see Jim Beaver as “Big Daddy.” Jim Beaver is well known to Deadwood fans, as well as to Supernatural fans for his portrayal of Bobby Singer. It was also so great to see him as the Victorian-era patriarch in Crimson Peak (my Ebert review here), and I was honored to interview Guillermo del Toro onstage at Ebertfest and hear of how Del Toro only had Jim Beaver in mind for that role, and how much he loved him as an actor. The thought of Jim Beaver as Big Daddy – another towering role in American theatre – was thrilling. Tennessee Williams holds Big Daddy back. Big Daddy is talked about constantly through Act One. He looms in everyone’s minds but he does not appear until the final moment in Act One (Auburn gave Big Daddy a real star entrance: Beaver swaggered onto the stage, and then stood upstage center, waiting to enter the room downstage. Blackout. The anticipation was intense! Let this intermission end!)

Big Daddy is a tyrant. A careless and cruel man in a lot of ways. Rude and blunt and all the rest. He does not suffer fools. He is not a soft man. He doesn’t care if he’s talking to a child or his wife; that person is going to hear the Truth. He’s intimidating and everybody races around trying to please him, competing for his attention. He sees all. The only person who doesn’t get the full force of his wrath is Maggie. Perhaps he looks at Maggie and sees himself as a young man: a poor boy, a striver, determined to wrench his way out of desperation and poverty, whatever it took. He gets Maggie. He does NOT get his own son. Or, he has a pretty good idea what’s happened, but such things aren’t easily talked about, especially in a time when the language for “gay” or “being gay is fine if that’s what you are” wasn’t even created yet. But Big Daddy knows.

Act Two is a masterpiece in and of itself. With constant interruptions, and people eavesdropping at the doors, Big Daddy tries to get Brick to talk about his drinking, the “why” of it, which inevitably leads to a conversation about Skipper. Brick flips out at every mention of Skipper’s name: Maggie, Big Daddy … they are all just TARNISHING the one purely good thing in his life and he cannot bear it. He fights like a tiger. But Big Daddy – who has just been given a clean bill of health (or at least that’s what HE thinks) – has decided to get to the bottom of this damn thing once and for all. When Big Daddy reveals that he knows that his son and Skipper were probably in love, it’s a shocker, to us but especially to Brick, who can’t believe it, but the biggest revelation comes in what follows: what Big Daddy tries to say is, “It’s okay, son. I’ve seen it all. Weren’t those two men who owned this plantation before me like that, too? They slept in the same bed. Big whup.” Brick, because of his internalized ravaging homophobia, can’t bear any of this. (You’re comparing me to those two dirty old queers?) “YOU THINK SO TOO” Brick screams at his father, over and over … and over. Raymond-James looked like a little kid in those moments, especially because he was wearing pajamas and a bathrobe. Big Daddy is bold enough, courageous enough, to say, “I DON’T CARE IF YOU ALL WERE IN LOVE. JUST STOP DRINKING.”

Beaver commanded that stage, Lord of the Manor, watch-chain, spats, hat, tie-pin, a man who expects to dominate every room he’s in. Beaver did not soft-pedal Big Daddy’s crude-ness, his lecherous lascivious side, or the cruelty with which he turns on his wife. Beaver made it all funny and awful at the same time (Big Daddy in a nutshell).

Beaver’s urgency in the scene with Brick was an object lesson for actors in how to play an objective with everything you’ve got. Every scene doesn’t have 10 objectives. Most good scenes have one strong objective, and in that scene, Big Daddy has one objective: get through to my lost son. Watching Beaver try all these different tactics in trying to achieve his objective was gorgeous, tense, thrilling. I was almost afraid to breathe in case I missed something. Big Daddy tries to talk to Brick man to man, he tells stories from his own life (including a disturbing one about a 5-year-old prostitute who propositioned him in Italy), he tries to empathize with Brick’s dissatisfaction, he speculates (“You started drinking after Skipper died …”) hoping Brick will either confirm or deny, he steals Brick’s crutch (a couple of times, I think) to keep Brick from going to get another drink, he bargains with his son via alcohol dispensing (“If you tell me what you’re disgusted with, I’ll give you a drink”), he opens up about his own fear of death and how he feels he has a new lease on life (the suggestion being; If it’s not over for me, then it’s not over for you, boy), he commiserates with Brick over how awful Gooper and his wife are, he asks how Maggie was in bed … It’s endless. These are all tactics, coming from a place of despair over the state of his son and his helplessness in the face of it. Big Daddy has a WALL of text, text that goes on in an unstoppable flow for the majority of Act Two, with intermittent non-committal responses from Brick … and Beaver was just masterful in managing this! Every moment specific, no nuance lost, every repetitive moment (“Tell me WHY you are disgusted” “Tell me WHY you drink”) getting more intense each time it returned. I KNOW the script and I had no idea what would happen next.

I was watching a Father and a Son go to places emotionally they had never gone before in the entirety of their relationship. It’s terrifying for both of them. It’s a duet, that scene, and Beaver and Raymond-James were so in sync (even when in conflict) in what they were attempting to create. You cannot play a strong objective as an actor without an equally strong obstacle coming back at you. You may want something but your scene partner is equally determined not to give it to you. When both sides are played 100%: boom, you have conflict, you have the scene. The closer Big Daddy got to the truth about Brick and Skipper, the more desperate Brick became for a drink, for escape, for oblivion.

It’s an extraordinary piece of writing on the page, that’s for sure. But it takes two geniuses like Beaver and Raymond-James to bring it so urgently to life.

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Michael Raymond-James as Brick, Jim Beaver as Big Daddy. Photo by Emma Rothenburg-Ware

In terms of the ending (more on that in a bit), whether or not you find any hope in it is probably dependent on the hand life has dealt you. Glass half-full/empty? Optimist/pessimist? The brilliance – and beautiful complexity – is that the play doesn’t come down on one side or the other (Williams’ plays rarely do). What you are left with is the mess of human life, the havoc wrought by repression and “mendacity”, and the desperate drive of every character on that stage to either push forward into life or retreat from life entirely. Death is omnipresent: unwanted death and death sought for.

During the development period of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1954/55, Tennessee Williams and director Elia Kazan (whom Williams hand-picked for the job) got into a battle royale over the ending of the script. It’s a well-documented argument, with Tennessee Williams’ letters on one side, and Kazan’s letters on the other. Reading both sides of the exchange is so illuminating, not only about the script for Cat but about what a creative process actually looks like. (For more of the background of the production of Cat, you can read this big tribute post of mine, filled with quotes.)

The source of the disagreement between Kazan and Williams was Act Three. Big Daddy disappeared entirely in Williams’ original Act Three, except for a cry of pain offstage. Kazan felt, strongly, that Big Daddy needed to return in Act Three, otherwise the audience would be wondering where he was. Such a strong character needed to return. Kazan also felt that there needed to be some “change” in Brick by the end, to provide a counterpoint to the nihilistic death-wish of the rest of it so the audience could “root” for him. Brick was (is) a mystery, and Kazan wanted more clarity. (Williams’ letters to Kazan about the character of Brick are amazing.) Now, Kazan was not a “happy ending” kind of guy, but he felt that there was something so unexplained in Brick that the play suffered. Williams disagreed on all counts.

As is obvious to anyone who knows the script, Kazan won that war: Williams re-wrote Act Three to include Big Daddy, and also slightly adjusted the ending so that instead of Brick, Maggie had the last line, her famous line starting with “Oh, you weak and beautiful people …” Brick is still laid low but in the “Kazan” version you feel like Maggie is maybe strong enough for the both of them. Maybe her prophecy will come to pass. The play opened on Broadway that way, and was a huge hit. But then, when the play was finally published, Williams included both versions of the final act, with a note of explanation on the “battle”, so that he could “let the reader decide.” (Kazan was very hurt by this. Their relationship survived – to the very end – but he still was very hurt by this.) In terms of what the audience is LEFT with at curtain, the two versions could not be more different. Williams’ final moment of Act Three (Brick’s line closing it out as opposed to Maggie’s) works better, in my opinion, but then I’m pretty pessimistic (I like to call it “realistic”) about serious systemic change in human beings. I admit it.

Williams’ original ending has Maggie climbing on top of Brick in bed, chanting in an almost incantatory way about how the “weak and beautiful people” need the stronger ones to take them by the hand, and she will do that for Brick and she will take care of him and he will give her a baby. She ends that small speech by declaring, “Oh, Brick, I DO love you.” Brick, lying beneath her, says, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that were true.” Blackout. (Big Daddy says the exact same words to Big Mama earlier in the play, and so it is a soul-crushing echo coming from Brick’s mouth, and is its own disastrous prophecy.) This was what Kazan took issue with. Shouldn’t Brick change just a little bit? Who are we supposed to “root for” if not Brick?

As far as I can tell, director David Auburn blended together elements from “Kazan’s ending” and “Williams’ ending” for the production in the Berkshire Theatre. Big Daddy returned to the stage in Act Three (Kazan), and Brick’s final fatalistic line “Wouldn’t it be funny if that were true” was added back in (Williams). It worked beautifully. It feels like that’s the way it was supposed to go, and I love that (in my opinion) both Kazan and Williams were right (although neither of them were 100% right). Kazan’s ending (giving Maggie the final line) is not as effective as Williams’ original that closes with Brick’s line, but I also think Kazan was right that Big Daddy had to return to the stage.

When Brick said his final line, and the house lights then slowly went down, making it clear to the audience that this was it, that was the end, I heard a woman down the row from me, gasp with pain, almost an “Oh no” sound. I think up until the final second she had hoped – hoped! – that Brick would put his glass down and take Maggie in his arms. Of course she hoped that. AND: her hope is the BEST part of us as humans. It may be doomed hope, or delusional, or filled with mendacity, but God help us if we ever abandon it entirely.

At one point in the correspondence between Williams and Kazan over the ending, Williams wrote:

The play was not just negative, since it was packed with rage, and rage is not a negative thing in life. It is positive, dynamic! … [Brick’s] one of the rich and lucky! Got everything without begging, was admired and loved by all. Hero! Beauty! — Two people fell in love with him beyond all bounds. Skipper and Maggie. He built up one side of his life around Skipper, another around Maggie – Conflict: Disaster! — One love ate up the other, naturally, humanly, without intention, just did! Hero is faced with truth and collapses before it … Maggie, the cat, has to give him some instruction in how to hold your position on a hot tin roof, which is human existence which you’ve got to accept on any terms whatsoever … Vitality is the hero of the play! — The character you can “root for” … is not a person but a quality in people that makes them survive.

It makes me want to cry and it’s a strange thing and I’m not sure I can describe it. When I go to see a well-known play, even if it’s not a very good production, I can still FEEL that great text thrumming on beneath, indestructible. I’ve seen high school productions of Midsummer Night’s Dream or Streetcar Named Desire that destroyed me, even with amateur teenagers acting up a storm and not understanding what they’re saying half the time, because the play itself is so monumental that there it is … still. Shining through. The kids GET it. They rise to the occasion of it. They feel its greatness too even if they are not skilled enough yet to make it come across.

But then when you see an excellent production with professional actors, like the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof I just saw in the Berkshires, the sense of being in the presence of an eternal and dauntingly brilliant piece of writing, something other playwrights – even very good ones – would KILL to achieve in their own work – is even more tremendous. You are in the presence of greatness. And you are grateful that you are there to witness it.

 
 

After the show

I finally met Jim Beaver, after periodic correspondence over the years, and him doing me a GIGANTIC favor – like, huge – but he supported me in my quest, and approved of my mission. Seriously. Even though my mission was thwarted (continuously) by TPTB at the CW, I can’t thank him enough. My email request reached the Man in Question, who said he wanted to do it. That was enough for me. And I haven’t given up. Please note Jim’s shirt. It’s another way we’ve bonded over the years and I just love that he strolled out into the lobby wearing his John Wayne shirt.

A Coda

I included Michael Raymond James’ performance in my piece about “back-ting” for Film Comment.

 
 
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64 Responses to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the Berkshires

  1. Cathi says:

    What a lovely piece. I read and enjoyed every word. I saw the play myself on opening night and agree with all you say here. We had the added attraction that evening of an uninvited cameo appearance by a bat at the beginning of act II and even that interruption, funny as it was for both cast and audience, couldn’t detract from the power of Williams’ words or the remarkable performance by the cast. Thanks for writing this. It took me straight back to a great night of theater. On a side note, come back and visit often. The Berkshire Theater Group produces Grade A+ theater here year after year. I hear their current production of Fiorello! is headed straight to Broadway after its run in Stockbridge.

    • sheila says:

      Cathi – // an uninvited cameo appearance by a bat at the beginning of act II //

      Oh my gosh, that is hilarious! The bat must have been very freaked out: “Uhm, where the heck am I … get me out of here ..”

      I would love to come back! I had a wonderful visit, and am sorry that I couldn’t stay to see Fiorello. It looked awesome.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  2. Dan says:

    I can never get enough Cat on the Hot Tin Roof. Even with all its compromises, the film still managed to be great when the source material shined through. It’s hard to beat Paul Newman and Liz Taylor as Brick and Maggie respectively, with Burl Ives as the quintessential Big Daddy. It’s a play I’ll even watch broken up into parts from various productions on Youtube. Tennessee Williams was something else. Many great biographies on the man that have helped me understand where his brilliance came from in some small way. I wish more of his plays came to the stage around where I live. Thank you for your write-up on this performance.

    • sheila says:

      Dan:

      // the film still managed to be great when the source material shined through. //

      Yes! And there were a couple of lines that stayed – lines that obviously suggested the relationship between Brick and Skipper – enough that it hovered around the action, even though it was dropped. And Taylor was great, and Newman was to die for. And Burl Ives – that big sweaty concerned face. Fantastic.

      I have realized that there are so many of his plays that I have actually never seen live – never seen The Rose Tattoo or Night of the Iguana. Or Orpheus Descending – the big three of his mid-career period when he was still having commercial success.

      I FEEL like I’ve seen them because I know the plays so well – but I haven’t!

      I’ve seen many a “Cat” – and it reminds me I need to re-watch the Tommy Lee Jones one – which I remember liking – but nothing can beat seeing it live – especially since the script is so relentless – nobody gets a break, so you’re watching actors run a marathon right in front of you.

    • sheila says:

      Oh, and I felt this piece was long enough – but I’ll just add here that the rest of the cast was perfect.

      The slightly-drunk priest who keeps making inappropriate jokes about death, or wandering into the middle of a huge family argument asking where the bathroom is … hilarious!

      And “Mae”, the pregnant sister-in-law with 5 kids … so bossy and snippy and superior – boy, TW knows how superior “fertile” women can act towards women who don’t have kids. Vicious!!

      And “Gooper” – who barely shows up in Act 1 and 2 and suddenly rises in importance in Act 3 – was also awesome.

      Jack Carson was so great as Gooper in the movie – he has that one moment where he suddenly starts to almost tear up in the midst of that big family blow-out (or one of them) – and it’s such a great moment because it’s so unexpected. He’s seemed so perfunctory and even slightly sinister before then – but suddenly you see the son who did everything right, who did everything his dad told him to do – and yet he never had the love of his father and that is UNFAIR.

      (I just re-watched the movie in preparation for seeing the play and I had forgotten all about that big Jack Carson moment. I love him.)

      • Nancy says:

        I have always loved that Jack Carson/Gooper moment in the film! If feels so real and unexpected that it touches the heart and makes you re-think everything you’ve thought about the character up to that point.

  3. Erin says:

    Thank you so much for this. I’ve never had the opportunity to see Cat on stage; we read it in high school English but I genuinely don’t think 12 disinterested 17 year olds can fully grasp the nuance required for this play.

    Normally when I read a review, it is “So-and-so played such-and-such …” And then go on to talk about the actor, not the role. It was wonderful to read about the character, about their processes – this is why I watch shows, to see characters, not actors.

    I only wish youhad been in my English class 25 years ago to explain this to me.

    • sheila says:

      Erin –

      // I only wish youhad been in my English class 25 years ago to explain this to me. //

      Such a nice thing to say – thanks!

      I am pretty sure that my first introduction to Williams was seeing “Streetcar” on afternoon TV when I was around 13 – and – like Shakespeare – like any playwright really – these things are meant to be seen and heard – not read. Scripts are difficult to read anyway – let alone understanding what they’re about!

      I think one of the reasons that I love “Cat” so much is that

      1. It’s totally clear. You FORGET how clear Williams was in stating his themes outright – no fear – no worry about being “too obvious” – everyone says their theme right off the bat. (This is true in all of his plays. It was a great inspiration to me when I was writing my own script and finding a “subtle” way to get some idea across. Then I’d read “Summer and Smoke” and be reminded: Don’t be afraid to come out and SAY it, Sheila.)

      but at the same time …

      2. It’s one of his most mysterious and hard-to-get-a-grip-on pieces of work. The plot is obvious – Brick’s lost love, Maggie wanting to get pregnant, Big Daddy afraid of dying – but beneath all of that something else is happening – and often productions can’t get a handle on that something else. Even Williams didn’t know what it was and he refused to delve into it further. Yes, there is a void in Brick, and we know what it is – but there’s so much we DON’T know – and Williams was like, “We never really know everything that is going on with other people.”

      It’s so bold that way.

      When Tommy Lee Jones came and spoke at my school, someone asked him about Brick: “I’ve seen so many Bricks in so many acting classes and it never works so I ask you: what’s Brick’s deal? What are the road blocks to portraying Brick?” (Jones loved the question. You could tell.) I don’t remember everything Jones said but I do remember him saying that he knew that around this time in Williams’ life, Williams was reading Nietzsche. And he thought that definitely some investigation should be done about Williams’ connection to Nietzsche and how that informed the writing of Brick. FASCINATING.

      I just read John Lahr’s biography of Williams – and it was okay (not a huge Lahr fan) – lots of great quotes and anecdotes, etc., but one thing that bugged me was that Lahr seemed only interested in Williams’ personal life and how that affected his plays. Lahr’s analysis of Williams’ plays came SOLELY from what was happening in TW’s life at the time of writing whatever play it was. Obviously, TW was a personal playwright and definitely used things he was going through, stuff that was on his mind – but to reduce it all to “He was drinking too much when he wrote ‘Cat’ and that’s where Brick came from …” seems pretty limited.

      There’s no word about Nietzsche and the possible connections or influences that he may have had on TW. It’s still a very intriguing thought!

      Thanks so much, again!

    • sheila says:

      Oh, and thank you too: I love script analysis. It’s one of my favorite things and I don’t get to do enough of it.

      I remember an acting teacher of mine – it was a Shakespeare class – saying “Don’t pull Macbeth down to your level. Rise to meet his.”

      It’s a great thought and I think a lot of actors try to make roles more “manageable” for themselves in all kinds of ways – because otherwise the role itself is like scaling a sheer cliff-wall. Or you’re haunted by everybody else who did it, maybe even definitively (like Brando with Stanley Kowalski, the most obvious example).

      So it’s wonderful to see – as I did in this production – every actor rise to meet the stature of these characters – even in the face of the ghosts of everyone else who played the roles, on stage and on film – and mold themselves to the contours of the roles (as opposed to the other way around).

      So you see Michael R-J come onstage and you’re like, “Oh. There’s Brick.”

      I can’t explain it! There’s something so moving about seeing these famous plays done again and again. You learn so much. I learn something new every time I see one live!

  4. Susan Brosch says:

    To the critic who wrote this,
    Your writing is lyrical. It’s full of heart. I feel your experience. Thank you.

    • sheila says:

      Susan – thank you so much! It was a pleasure, seeing that show and a pleasure writing this piece in tribute.

      — Sheila

  5. MysticKid aka Steff Wiltse says:

    How I envy you this performance. Yet what you’ve written makes me feel as if I was indeed there in spirit, thank you! I am no scholar of Williams or his work, but he did write a play that gave me words to love that kept me company through difficult times. And I was privileged to meet him very, very briefly just once back in 1983. Permit me to reciprocate with that moment at the Williamstown Theater Festival taken from an as yet unpublished memoir: “I studied the thinning hair on the back of the man’s head in the seat in front of me. Even as the house lights dimmed and the tribute began I could not stop returning my gaze to his shadowy outline. It was his homage, his triumph tonight, a collection of scenes from the many plays he had written. I couldn’t believe Tennessee Willliams, the man who had written “Night of the Iguana,” was right there in the seat in front of me, seeing and hearing what I was, breathing the same air. Scene after scene, despairing, angry, but then, sometimes, utterly transcendent, the actors outdid themselves, luminous in the presence of their playwright. The audience reflected the glow of it back in kind. Even so, his presence still distracted me, I reached out in my imagination towards him as if to touch….

    He felt it?

    Williams turned completely around in his seat and stared back at me questioningly.
    He looked like someone awakened from a dream, a very long, very tiring dream. Not necessarily a nightmare, just something that had made him shy, wary. Something had ebbed in him long since he had written ‘Iguana,’ something too fragile to be disturbed. I politely raised an eyebrow and smiled into the face of his hurt as sincerely as I could, gently nodding his attention back with a look to where he belonged. Back to his “cradle of life” onstage where he would always be long after his own life had ended. And it did end, just a month later. “

    • sheila says:

      MysticKid – my God, what a beautiful piece of writing and what a beautiful moment! I’m breathless! You are so fortunate to have been there and thank you for sharing it!!

    • sheila says:

      Oh, and I went and saw Streetcar at Williamstown a couple of years ago (2011 maybe?), and there was a big article in the program about that very tribute night you mention! So now I feel (just a little bit, through your words) like I was there too.

      • MysticKid aka Steff Wiltse says:

        Now I have to thank you yet again, Sheila. When writing there are always niggling dissatisfactions, large and small, that sometimes can take years to notice let alone address. My coach was always admonishing me to “show not tell,” because I would often hide a memory —even from myself— beneath layers of verbiage that were accurate but nevertheless incomplete. In sharing my remembrance with you yesterday I realized that I had hidden just such a facet behind a lifeless word that might have represented a factual surface but had shown nothing of what made its living truth personal to me! So, with your inspiration, I’ve now made repairs to the phrase: “…smiled into the face of his hurt just as his words had once smiled into mine…”

  6. Jessie says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for this write-up Sheila!

    I have loved Michael Raymond-James for years — he always brings something unexpected to even the tiniest parts. He is terrifying when he plays bad — the switch in True Blood, his brief electric moments in The Salvation (with our darlings Eva, JDM and Mads) and Walking Dead — he goes still, superintense, superwatchful, supersmart. And on the other hand he can be so relaxed and friendly and open — so deeply decent you just wanna be around him all the time. I can absolutely see him playing that quality in Brick where his fatalism and uncaring and acceptance starts to feel like almost a decency and grace towards others, an echo of a bright encouraging past. Anyway to see MRJ play absence, void, and the physicality of his drunkenness — to see that distance shattered in Act Two — kills me that I couldn’t see it but reading this is the next best thing!

    As for your discussion of JB’s powerful and complex Big Daddy — somewhere I am sure Big Mama is screaming about all my dreams coming true, but otherwise I have no words. Thank you!

    I am particularly excited to read about this blend of the endings. The upswing in those final moments of the movie (especially) and Kazan’s version feel discordant to me — how do you get around the “infinite gratitude” Brick has towards his drink in that last scene in the W version? I don’t think you can, I think gratitude is too essential and impossible a word to get past, and I almost don’t think — in our own mendacity — that we deserve a resolution. That woman gasping down the row from you! Wow!

    • sheila says:

      // somewhere I am sure Big Mama is screaming about all my dreams coming true, //

      Jessie – ha!!!

    • sheila says:

      // where his fatalism and uncaring and acceptance starts to feel like almost a decency and grace towards others, an echo of a bright encouraging past. //

      Wow, that is such a beautiful way of putting it. I hadn’t thought of it quite like that but that’s exactly it – and that’s what makes him so sympathetic (and tragic) even though you sure as hell wouldn’t want to be married to someone like Brick.

      He says a couple of times to Maggie that it would be a relief to him if she took a lover. Even though he says mean stuff like “Why do you want to sleep with a man who can’t stand you?” … and even though it may seem (and really is) cruel to say to this woman who is aching to get into bed with you and re-connect – “Listen, it ain’t gonna happen. Why don’t you admit it and find another man to give you what you need?” – it does come from almost an apologetic sense of generosity. He’s not demanding that she stay loyal even though he’s rejected her. He’s certainly being selfish (“Please, it tortures me that you still want to go to bed with me … Please take a lover so I know you’re being taken care of and I’ll be off the hook …”) – but it does, it does come from an echo of the generous star he used to be.

      He can’t BEAR her touch, he can’t BEAR her need for him – it reminds him of his one True Love, and it reminds him that every second of his life he’s been forced to live a lie. Plus the fact that he does blame her for Skipper’s death.

      Poor Skipper.

      There are some suggestions in the script – and I think in Tennessee Williams’ letters too – that Skipper was the one who was “out” – not that the relationship was one-sided but that it was one of those situations where a gay man is madly in love with his straight-ish friend – and Brick loved Skipper, but didn’t have those same feelings – or didn’t want to act on it – and so that’s where his fury came from when everybody assumes there was more going on there. He has that line – “can’t two men be friends without people making it dirty” and etc. I do know that Williams said in one of his incredible letters about Brick, trying to explain it to Kazan – that Brick was a “homosexual who made a heterosexual adjustment.” (Clearly this is not our language now – but TW’s ideas on this are fascinating – AND – in a letter that he asked Kazan to destroy – which Kazan did not obey since it still exists – he said that Brick was like Marlon Brando. Brando also was a “homosexual who made a heterosexual adjustment.” !!!! And in TW’s view, people who do that are quite often “puritans” about sex – which is something Maggie says to Brick when she tells him she wants sex and he finds it offensive. So Brando could be quite prudish and puritan about other people’s open sex lives – because on some level he had decided to not “go that way”, so there was some “mendacity” there … I don’t know: it’s fascinating. Consider those closeted Republican senators and politicians and preachers who rail against homosexuality – and then are discovered with a rent-boy in their closet or a male massage therapist on speed-dial. Puritans because of what they have to hide.)

      TW definitely had tons of experience falling in love with straight men – or 80% straight – who would sleep with him for a couple of weeks and then go off and get married – completely cutting TW out of their lives because they didn’t want the reminder. TW’s very first real love affair, outside of picking up sailors in Times Square (who would then beat him up because they hated themselves so much) – was with a beautiful dancer named Kip Kiernan, one summer in Provincetown. (TW’s very last play, Something Cloudy Something Clear is about Kip and that summer – an elderly gay man haunted by the ghost of his golden beautiful first love.) Kip (according to TW’s memoirs) had never had sex with another man before, and – according to TW’s friends – the relationship was pretty one-sided. They slept together, but TW thought it was something that it really wasn’t. After the summer with TW, Kip almost immediately married a woman – blind-siding and devastating TW – and TW wrote this vicious awesome letter to Kip saying that he knew what they had was real, that Kip had broken his heart completely, and he closes with this line:

      I hereby formally bequeath you to the female vagina, which vortex will inevitably receive you with or without my permission.

      OMG. And Kip died soon after he married from a brain tumor. TW visited him in the hospital. Never stopped mourning the loss, never forgot.

      In my opinion, and I think this is they way Michael R-J played it, it was an open love affair between the two men, a Paradise, an Eden on both sides. And that’s why Brick flips out – because it was a secret, and it was precious to him, and to have other people sneer at it and have contempt for it (although nobody in his family does – at least Maggie and Big Daddy don’t) is devastating to him and he WON’T HAVE IT. I think that’s a stronger choice – and R-J was so coiled into himself that you could practically see his last-stand going on protecting this beautiful relationship from prying unsympathetic eyes.

      Ugh, this play is brutal.

      • Jessie says:

        OMG that ferocious letter!

        That’s fascinating background to the Mystery of Skipper and I can see how it would feed into different versions of their history. Tragic that I am, the version I believe in most or want to believe in most is the one it seems MR-J played: the way you describe it (last stand!) breaks my heart! I do love having my heart broken.

        So I want to believe that and it excites me that that was the choice made here — but I don’t know — my brain is fried today and I’m struggling to express it further. The air is so thick with truth and mendacity, they muddy each other. Brick talks so much about how he feels about his relationship with Skipper but he never actually talks about Skipper himself except to describe his ruin. That’s what I was talking about when I said I was desperate to know what Skipper looks like! I feel so close to being sure but there’s this doubt! How do you have something so beautiful and pure and true with someone who can also snap like a rotten twig? It’s such a (purposefully) base and ugly description. And Brick is in the middle of breaking too — hell just the last night he snapped his own leg.

        And all those examples that you list with Maggie…and all his acquiescences and uninvested moments of connection (have you seen the Tommy Lee Jones/Jessica Lange version that’s on youtube? he spends whole bits of Act II laughing in his lines with BD and it’s horrible because it’s so on the surface, so hollow underneath)…you know he doesn’t wish bad things for people. All those people that love him, it sucks to be them not because he’s cruel but because he’s lost. He’s just heartbroken and full of self-loathing. He wants to be alone until the click, and the peace. But abdicating responsibility is a choice too. You can’t opt-out. Yup, brutal.

        • sheila says:

          Beautiful thoughts, Jessie.

          I like to have my heart broken, too. MR-J, to me, WAS the “Brick” in my head. There was a gentle quality to him most of the time – he let people flip out around him – and he didn’t watch with contempt – he was off in his own little world. Even his mean lines to Maggie somehow skipped off the surface – not in a bad way – you just felt he didn’t have the energy to commit to that anymore – and it was all colored by his self-loathing at what he was doing to this girl – he knew she didn’t deserve this. “It would be a relief to me if you took a lover.” “Take a lover, Maggie.” SO CRUEL and yet so generous at the same time.

          Maggie has that great line about what Brick was like in bed – he was slow and gentle and considerate – “it was almost like you were opening a door for a lady” – like gently letting her go first – haha – not like other men, who just wanted to “take.” But maybe – she wonders – if he had been more of a “taker”, they wouldn’t be in the position they were in right now.

          It’s kind of complex, that little monologue – and he can barely bear to listen to it because it disgusts him now – it all was a lie. Intriguing.

          But that image of his generosity towards her in bed gives a palpable glimpse of what a stunning and different man he must have been – and why people were drawn to him like moths to the flame. Skipper too. It’s heartbreaking.

          and yeah, interesting, he does defend his relationship with Skipper – and he gives a couple of images only of their relationship – and that comes when he’s shouting at Big Daddy in the “what’s so weird about two men being friends” monologue. The one that touches me is the two of them on the road with their football team – lying in two separate beds – and reaching out to shake hands across the space, saying “good night.”

          The image of those two men – feeling whatever it was they were feeling – a pure space of understanding – like, they both knew, they both knew what they had – and it really seems like they were pretty open about it – if everyone around them saw and suspected … What is REALLY shocking is when Big Daddy basically gives Brick the option to live his life “out.” It is SUCH an unlikely source for that kind of advice and Brick flips out at the suggestion. But Big Daddy’s like, “You’re not the first person to be in this position. Other men have worked it out. Nobody gives a shit. Be who you are.”

          It’s amazing – and again, heartbreaking.

    • sheila says:

      Sorry to break my comments up, Jessie – there’s just so much to talk about and I’m trying to do it one by one.

      // he goes still, superintense, superwatchful, supersmart. And on the other hand he can be so relaxed and friendly and open — so deeply decent you just wanna be around him all the time. //

      I need to get more familiar with his work. Frankly, he blew me away – and he’s incredible onstage. His body language told the story. He was also very funny – which is also great for Brick.

      Maggie in Act One talks for about 3 pages straight in the opening of the play. Brick isn’t onstage at first, and then he comes on and hobbles over to the bar, pours a drink and then goes and sits down. All as she talks and talks and talks. At one point she demands a response to something she said and there was a pause, and he said, staring into his drink, “Did you say something, Maggie?” And he said it in a way that wasn’t bitchy – he’s too distant for that – he said it in a way where you understood that he TRULY hadn’t been listening to a word she said.

      I’ve always been meaning to watch True Blood – I know someone who’s in it! Sam Trammell, whose amazing partner (they have twins together) Missy Yager – directed the workshop production of my script in LA. I just never got around to watching the show, even though it’s right up my alley.

      • Jessie says:

        True Blood stacks the deck with maybe eight superb comic performances and the first few seasons contain some inspired silly gory comedy. It’s worth watching until season three just to get to Denis O’Hare. But after that its narrative weaknesses and misdirected focus (imo) got us hate-watching; I pushed us on because I knew Chris Meloni was coming up, but then they went and made him boring too and we threw in the towel. CHRIS MELONI!! Boring!! RM-J is excellent in the first season though, and he hangs out a lot with one of my favourite SPN monsters, Nick the siren!

        No, the true MR-J gospel I would preach is one-season wonder Terriers, with Donal Logue (& Rachel Miner guest spots!). Incredible person-focussed acting from the two leads: a private eye show fueled by empathy and decency. Really special.

        • sheila says:

          I love Chris Meloni!!!

          Terriers sounds amazing – I will check it out.

          • sheila says:

            Okay, Jessie, so I’m 5 episodes into Terriers. I love it so much!! Thank you!

          • Jessie says:

            Ha ha amazing! I’m so glad! How electric is Karina Logue’s entrance, right? My hair stood on end!

            (Sorry to leave you hanging re: COAHTR, I’be been stretched a bit thin but I’ll be back to attempt to add anything to your thoughtful as ever comments!)

          • sheila says:

            Oh my gosh, Karina Logue!!! I know!

            I was like; What the HELL!!

            She’s amazing. I’m at episode 6 right now. What a beautiful little series – you’re right; totally character-based. It’s all about those two guys. All of the regulars – the ex-wife, the girlfriend, the cop – are wonderful.

            And I love the very specific environment of the beach-town!

          • sheila says:

            Oh and goodness, no worries about responding to Cat stuff – whenever you’re ready!

            (Did you see that Michael Raymond-James also linked to this review? It’s been a fun couple of days!)

          • Jessie says:

            I didn’t see that MR-J linked too – what a great vote of confidence, I’m so pleased he saw your thoughts.

            So many great specific things about Terriers: the vibe of the credits, the driving, the beat-up car, the bar and the diner. Taken too soon!

          • sheila says:

            Yes, the credits are great! The atmosphere is so specific – this sort of eccentric lackadaisical beach town – it looks like they filmed most of it on location. Or maybe in Venice Beach – I don’t know San Diego all that well.

            Another thing I REALLY like: the romantic situations in both of their lives – are really developed – and neither man is having a “oh wow, look at that hot girl” kind of love life. Both are MEN as opposed to boys: so we’ve got the strangely tender and yet sad relationship with Logue’s ex-wife – an ongoing concern – and his clear love for her, still alive. And then there’s Raymond-James’ relationship – which is going on two years, extremely intimate, but well past the “I just met this hot girl” phase. And so the relationship issues that character has – are actually not normally shown in episodic television. We meet up with that couple two years in – where they’re comfortable with each other, still having lots of sex – but trembling on the cusp of something else – having a baby? getting married?

            And the relationships are not separate from the action of the rest – it’s all woven together – just another part of these guy’s lives.

            It’s very … adult? maybe is the word I’m looking for? I really appreciate it. They may look like arrested-development dudebros – and in a way they are – but relationship-wise, they’re both adults.

          • Jessie says:

            yes, it’s so character-based (the conspiracy plot feels so OTT at times!) and there’s a lot of grown-up feeling to the relationships with those two women. It’s really interesting. One of my favourite things about the show is how they interact with all the women they encounter along the way — that incredible scene of the woman sobbing on the floor of the hairdresser’s, and DL is just overcome by her feeling. I keep coming back to the word empathy because of the way these guys listen to and feel with women feels remarkable to me and so different from just about anything else I’ve seen.

            And yet there are these two women in the show defined by their roles as girlfriend and ex-wife and that definition comes from how desperately these two guys cling to them. You know, it’s from the guys’ perspectives so that’s really all they are in the show, the girlfriend and the ex-wife, but you still get the sense that that’s a warping, it’s not a full accounting of them. There’s such a strong critique of male possessiveness and sexual obsession running through the season and that’s different from the protectiveness they feel towards the other women, who they see as just human beings in uniquely vulnerable positions. Anyway. I’m so sad they couldn’t explore it further but I’m thankful for what we have, and I’m over the moon that you like it! It never got the attention it deserved!

        • Lyrie says:

          //Donal Logue//
          I saw him first in Sons of Anarchy so he. scares. me.

    • sheila says:

      // That woman gasping down the row from you! Wow! //

      I know, right? It so added to the experience of that final moment – it’s what TW intended – it was so emotional!!

      // The upswing in those final moments of the movie (especially) and Kazan’s version feel discordant to me — how do you get around the “infinite gratitude” Brick has towards his drink in that last scene in the W version? //

      Yeah it’s really interesting. I’m not sure what other changes have been made – and maybe there’s yet another published version that has put it all together in one. (I know New Directions – TW’s longtime publisher and in charge of his literary properties to this day – recently brought out “Cat” again – they always have great ‘special features’ and information so I should add that one to my collection – since maybe it says something about all of this. I’m so fascinated by this Kazan/TW battle!

      The movie really changes Act III – Brick stops drinking at some point during it, right? – he’s pretty coherent by those final scenes – and then there’s that long scene in the basement where Big Daddy opens up about his own father (which isn’t at all in either version of the stage script, I’m pretty sure). It feels very much from the 1950s that scene – where everyone was in psychoanalysis and everyone was obsessed with Freudian motivations: it all goes back to childhood and your parents. And I’m not sure when the change comes for Brick – when Brick decides to reunite with his wife and give her what she wants so badly – but I think it comes after that scene in the basement.

      Do you remember?

      The way Kazan’s version goes, if I recall:

      Right near the end of the play, Brick suddenly sighs, “Ahhhh” and stops. Maggie says, “What?” He says, “The click.” He’s so happy. Maggie sees her chance. He is out on the balcony and she races around the room taking off her dress and fluffing up pillows on the bed – talking about how she has a really good feeling about the future, and she knows what to do now – Brick seems so peaceful and open when the click comes – that she knows it won’t take much to basically mount him and get him to impregnate her since she’s ovulating and the moon is in the 7th house.

      Brick comes back to bed, and Maggie climbs on top of him, saying her line about “Oh, you weak and beautiful people. What you need is a strong person to take you by the hand and blah blah blah …” Blackout. So my impression of this is: it’s going to work. They’re going to have sex, she will get pregnant, and she will nurse him back to health – or at least try. Brick is still out of it, but that’s the point of her little speech: “Don’t worry, baby, I’m going to take good care of you. You’re weak and beautiful but I’m alive and strong and I know what to do now.”

      It’s tragic because of the world Brick (and Skipper) lived in – that they couldn’t just be a couple – and it’s tragic for Maggie because she’ll be with a husband who will always yearn for someone else – but that’s Life as TW saw it – and Maggie’s life force and vitality was (in his mind) a victory.

      I think the only difference in the TW version is that after the “weak and beautiful” speech – with all its transcendent hope and opening-up of possibilities – Maggie says, “Oh Brick I DO love you” and he replies, “Wouldn’t that be funny if it were true,” parroting back what his father always says to his mother when she declares she loves him.

      Which is pretty bleak. Ugh.

      // I think gratitude is too essential and impossible a word to get past, and I almost don’t think — in our own mendacity — that we deserve a resolution. //

      What a difficult and true thought.

      I’m gonna pull out my script and have a look and see what else I can see in those two endings.

  7. sheila says:

    THE FINAL MOMENTS OF TW’S ORIGINAL VERSION: – which you clearly already know, Jessie, because of your quoting of “infinite gratitude” – but here goes:

    MAGGIE: Thank you for — keeping still …

    BRICK: OK, Maggie.

    MAGGIE: It was gallant of you to save my face!

    BRICK: — It hasn’t happened yet.

    MAGGIE: What?

    BRICK: The click ….

    MAGGIE: — the click in your head that makes you peaceful, honey?

    BRICK: Uh-huh. It hasn’t happened … I’ve got to make it happen before I can sleep ….

    MAGGIE: — I — know what you — mean ….

    BRICK: Give me that pillow in the big chair, Maggie.

    MAGGIE: I’ll put it on the bed for you.

    BRICK: No, put it on the sofa, where I sleep.

    MAGGIE: Not tonight, Brick.

    BRICK: I want it on the sofa. That’s where I sleep.

    [He has hobbled to the liquor cabinet. He now pours down three shots in quick succession and stands, waiting, silent. All at once he turns with a smile and says:]

    There!

    MAGGIE: What?

    BRICK: The click

    [His gratitude seems almost infinite as he hobbles out on the gallery with a drink. We hear his crutch as he swings out of sight. Then, at some distance, he begins singing to himself a peaceful song.

    Maggie holds the big pillow forlornly as if it were her only companion, for a few moments, then throws it on the bed. She rushes to the liquor cabinet, gathers all the bottles in her arms, turns about undecidedly, then runs out of the room with them, leaving the door ajar on the dim yellow hall. Brick is heard hobbling back along the gallery, singing his peaceful song. He comes back in, sees the pillow on the bed, laughs lightly, sadly, picks it up. He has it under his arm as Maggie returns to the room. Maggie softly shuts the door and leans against it, smiling softly at Brick.

    MAGGIE: Brick, I used to think that you were stronger than me and I didn’t want to be overpowered by you. But now, since you’ve taken to liquor – you know what? – I guess it’s bad, but now I’m stronger than you and I can love you more truly!

    Don’t move that pillow. I’ll move it right back if you do!

    — Brick?

    [She turns out all the lamps but a single rose-silk-shaded one by the bed.]

    I really have been to a doctor and I know what to do and – Brick? – this is my time by the calendar to conceive!

    BRICK: Yes, I understand, Maggie. But how are you going to conceive a child by a man involve with his liquor?

    MAGGIE: By locking his liquor up and making him satisfy my desire before I unlock it!

    BRICK: Is that what you’ve done, Maggie?

    MAGGIE: Look at see. The cabinet’s mighty empty compared to before!

    BRICK: Well, I’ll be a son of a —

    [He reaches for his crutch but she beats him to it and rushes out on the gallery, hurls the crutch over the rail and comes back in, panting.

    [There are running footsteps. Big Mama bursts into the room, her face all awry, gasping, stammering.]

    BIG MAMA: Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God, where is it?

    MAGGIE: Is this what you want, Big Mama?

    [Margaret hands her the package left by the doctor.]

    BIG MAMA: I can’t bear it, oh, God! Oh, Brick! Brick, baby!

    [She rushes at him. He averts his face from her sobbing kisses. Maggie watches with a tight smile.]

    My son, Big Daddy’s boy! Little Father!

    [The groaning cry is heard again. She runs out, sobbing.]

    MAGGIE: And so tonight we’re going to make the lie true, and when that’s done, I’ll bring the liquor back here and we’ll get drunk together, here, tonight, in this place that death has come into ….

    — What do you say?

    BRICK: I don’t say anything. I guess there’s nothing to say.

    MAGGIE: Oh, you weak people, you weak, beautiful people! — who give up. — What you want is someone to —

    [She turns out the rose-silk lamp.]

    — take hold of you. — Gently, gently, with love! And —

    [The curtain begins to fall slowly.]

    I do love you, Brick, I do!

    BRICK (smiling with charming sadness): Wouldn’t it be funny if that was true?

    THE END

  8. sheila says:

    KAZAN’S VERSION, THE BROADWAY VERSION: It’s much shorter – there’s a big argument with Gooper, Mae and Maggie after she announces (lying) that she’s going to have a baby. Big Mama does not burst into Kazan’s version (where she’s looking for the morphine to give to Big Daddy). In the moment before the ending in Kazan’s ending, Big Daddy declares he’s going to go up on the roof and survey “his kingdom.” Big Mama hurries off after him asking if she can come with. Maggie and Brick are left onstage alone.

    Now I’m really noticing the differences:

    [The clock strikes twelve. Maggie and Brick exchange a look. He drinks deeply, putting his glass on the bar. Gradually, his expression changes. He utters a sharp exhalation.

    [The exhalation is echoed by the singers, who commence vocalizing with “Gimme a Cool Drink of Water Fo’ I Die” and continues till end of act.]

    MAGGIE (as she hears Brick’s escalation): The click?

    [Brick looks toward the singers, happily, almost gratefully. He crosses to the bed, picks up his pillow, and starts toward the couch. Maggie seizes the pillow from his grasp, rises, holding the pillow close. Brick watches her with growing admiration. She moves quickly, throwing pillow onto the bed. She crosses to the bar. Brick watches her. Maggie grabs all the bottles from the bar. She goes into the hall, pitches the bottles, one after the other, into the lawn. Bottles break. Margaret re-enters, facing Brick.]

    Echo Spring has gone dry, and no one but me could drive you to town for more.

    BRICK: Lacey will get me —

    MAGGIE: Lacey’s been told not to!

    BRICK: I could drive —

    MAGGIE: And you lost your driver’s license! I’d phone ahead and have you stopped on the highway before you got halfway to Ruby Lightfoot’s gin mill. I told a lie to Big Daddy, but we can make that lie come true. And then I’ll bring you liquor, and we’ll get drunk together, here, tonight, in this place that death has come into! What do you say? What do you say, baby?

    BRICK (crossing to the bed): I admire you, Maggie.

    [Brick sits on the edge of the bed. He looks up at the overhead light, then at Maggie. She reaches for the light, turns it out; then she kneels quickly beside Brick at the foot of the bed.]

    MAGGIE: Oh, you weak, beautiful people who give up with such grace. What you need is someone to take hold of you — gently, with love, and hand your life back to you, like something gold you let go of – and I can! I’m determined to do it – and nothing’s more determined than a cat on a hot tin roof – is there? Is there, baby?

    [She touches his cheek, gently.]

    THE END

    • sheila says:

      So in this version: Brick stands onstage watching Maggie throw out the bottles. He doesn’t stop her. Maggie’s monologue about him losing his driver’s license – or the first part of it – isn’t in TW’s version – and after she tells him what will happen that night, that they’ll get into bed, and then have sex and then get drunk – he says “I admire you” (ha! – you can almost feel TW, steam coming out of his ears, throwing that in there to satisfy Kazan’s request that Brick change a little bit from Act One to Act Three). Also, Brick goes and sits down on the bed – a huge acquiescence – not to insist he sleeps on the couch – and then Maggie’s monologue – expanded a little – closes it all out.

      Please discuss!

      And then of course the film version which is totally different – although some of the lines are the same! Maggie’s “weak people people” line and others.

      • Jessie says:

        the moon is in the 7th house.
        ha haha it’s so true!

        Thanks for posting the comparisons! It’s startling really how much difference there is, laid out like that.

        The movie definitely tries its best to redeem Brick. I had forgotten, but the ending’s on youtube and it ends with Brick calling Maggie upstairs and a big romantic kiss and a shift of the pillow to the bed. “We are through with liars and lying in this house,” says Brick, which is very convenient for everyone.

        As for TW vs EK: sometimes it feels like every other gay novel of the early-mid twentieth century starts with a kind of halcyon, defining, pure romance/love-object (I’m thinking, like, Brideshead, Maurice, City&Pillar here) a “first” that goes wrong, sending the protag off into the world and its various homosexual subcultures. That first passion-love is the springboard for this whole exploration and growth.

        But in Cat, the whole thing just STOPS. Brick hits a brick wall. He checks OUT. I like that about it and so the TW ending feels more right to me. And I don’t think it’s completely hopeless either. I believe in Maggie’s strength and I believe that they have some kind of feelings for each other that could help. Hell, if Hank Dolworth can get sober after losing his one true love I’m sure Brick can too!

        Kazan knows what he’s doing, obviously, and I have no strong opinions on Big Daddy coming back. Sounds like that was a good move. But you talk so well about the role of Brick and how active his stasis is and the thick swampy air of mendacity, and what a strength to the play that is. I just don’t need the end of the play to be the overt beginning of something. After all that exposure and sorrow and histrionics I’d rather remain the tension of the stasis and the irresolvability of the problem of society: mendacity, white lies, grey lies, black lies, self-lies, and the toll they take.

        I mean, to leave us on “wouldn’t it be funny if that were true,” (“true” being literally the last word) is incredible. For that devastating echo that you point out. But also for all of Brick’s unhoped-for hopes re: a life without mendacity. Big Daddy talks a big game about not caring about the two old men who used to sleep in that room. Sure, he says to Brick, you and Skipper could have been honest about yourselves. Wouldn’t that be funny if it were true.

  9. Wendy Freels says:

    Your commentary is spot-on. I saw the play on the 25th (matinee) and loved it. I’d never read it or seen it elsewhere. The fact the Jim Beaver was what drew me to it, to be honest. I left the room feeling like I had missed Mr. Beaver but met Big Daddy instead. Raymond-James’ portrayal of Brick tore me to pieces. I did not see that coming. After seeing a superb production of Williams’ signature play, meeting Jim Beaver afterwards was just icing. What a wonderful day!

    • sheila says:

      Wendy – so glad you got to see it! And very thrilled that this was your introduction to this masterpiece! It’s a hell of a script, isn’t it??

      I’m still thinking about it – and I’m very happy that Jim, too, seems to be pleased with this review. I didn’t write it for that reason – I wrote it to celebrate the cast’s accomplishment – but still, it’s nice that the message-in-a-bottle reached its target.

  10. Sheila! Fantastic, in-depth review, (and one I read out loud to C)
    I wish I could see it!
    I also re-read your great post on the dynamic collaboration of Kazan and TW.
    I love TW’s quotes about the heart of Big Daddy. “I wanted to keep the core of the play very hard.” And to Kazan, “Things are not always explained, situations are not always resolved, characters don’t always progress.
    I’m not an expert at all on Cat, but feel I like TW’s ending more then Kazan’s. Bricks last words. and his not bringing Big Daddy back was the stronger choice for me too.
    Reading now In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel, it’s always amazing the same obsessions, themes, dreams, etc, TW has in all his plays. One of the last lines of Miriam in Tokyo is, “It would be strange, but possible if later I discovered I cared for him deeply in spite of.” Close to Brick’s words.
    Also it is eluded to in Tokyo, way less then in Cat, but it is there for sure, the possibility of Mark being gay. Or just a shade of doubt is spoken by Miriam. It is just eluded to but enough to put something there. And like TW says, it doesn’t all have to be spelled out in a neat package.
    Also great comments and story by Mystic Kid and Cathi, C said, “It was Bat on a Hot Tin Roof!”

    • sheila says:

      Regina:

      “Bat on a Hot Tin Roof” hahahahahaha!!

      // “Things are not always explained, situations are not always resolved, characters don’t always progress. //

      Yeah, I think that was the crux of the issue … and I’m trying to think of the rest of TW’s body of work – is there another character in his great plays who has the AMOUNT of mystery that Brick has? I can’t think of one.

      // nd his not bringing Big Daddy back was the stronger choice for me too. //

      Interesting – can you explain why you think it’s the stronger choice? I re-read the Kazan version – and it’s still so strong that nothing seems lacking (and it played great in the production I just saw) – but would love to hear your take on why Big Daddy not coming back is the stronger choice.

      TW’s ending definitely has more fatalism – not just for Brick – but for everyone. Big Daddy has gone off to die. He moans from off-stage. Big Mama – who hates needles and balks at the thought of giving him morphine – rushes back onstage to get the morphine needle. Big Daddy probably doesn’t have long to live. And he will die in a RAGE at the “liars” – his family – who let him think he was going to live.

      I need to re-read Tokyo Hotel – I love that play – and so excited that you and C are going to do it!!

  11. Sheila Oh, right off the Bat, (oh no!) again, I’m not an expert on Cat, at all, just following your thread of thought, but thought it would be intriguing and mysterious if Big Daddy doesn’t come back. Sort of like in Psycho where Hitchcock kills off Janet Lee a lead character early on. But it’s hard to say, maybe that’s too abstract. Also if a play is more commercial that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing, maybe it’s a more exciting choice and the structure makes it more fun to watch. Always a line you have to walk.

    • sheila says:

      Regina – yeah that’s why their argument is so interesting to me – both men were great artists, of course, and nobody was trying to “sell out” – and Kazan (to his credit) did not want to downplay any of the more controversial elements (like Brick’s homosexuality) – but he could take a very strong hand with playwrights’ work – I think he said that this was the only play of TW’s that he really felt strongly needed to be changed.

      TW’s version is very eerie – because through Act III – that vibrant presence who took over in Act II – is reduced to a moaning voice offstage. I mean … the play really is about Death, isn’t it.

      I think TW was really out on a limb with this one – even more so than Glass Menagerie and Streetcar – although he was out on a limb in different ways with those (Menagerie especially since it was his first show that went to Broadway). But “Cat” feels dangerous – even more so than those two. Maybe because there is that mystery in it … the fact that you only get tantalizing glimpses of the relaionsthip between Brick and Skipper – Skipper haunts the play and we know so little about him and yet look at the havoc his death has wrought …

      I don’t know, maybe “abstract” is more the way to go with this one.

      I’d be interested to see Kazan’s version done … I’m not sure what most productions do with Act III – blend the two versions? Totally do TW’s version? I think because TW wrote that little “note from the author’ in the published version of the play people probably feel obligated to go with his version.

  12. Erin says:

    In case you missed it, this is on Jim Beaver’s Facebook page:

    “The most amazing thing I’ve ever read about a project I was involved in.” Then he linked this this review :o)

    Big Daddy has spoken.

  13. Kate says:

    When you write like this I always find myself thinking “I wish Tennessee Williams could read this.” Well done.

  14. Aslan'sOwn says:

    It’s weird when online life and real life collide. I was just in the Berkshires over the 4th of July. I saw the ads for that production but got distracted by trying to keep my kids happy and getting to spend time with family. What an awesome review! I wish I’d seen it.

    • sheila says:

      Aslan’s Own – wow, we both were there! I’d been there before quite a bit in my childhood and teenage years – I love it – and it was so fun to take a little road trip.

      It was also my first Air BNB experience and honestly I’m never going back to motels. It was amazing – and cheap!

      Also very glad I got to see it – such a short run! Live theatre, man – here one moment, vanishes the next.

  15. sheila says:

    Okay, Jessie, taking our Terriers convo down here – which makes me think I should just write a post about it.

    SPEAKING OF WHICH: Yesterday I was reading Noel Murray’s super-fun re-caps of the show on AV Club – and in a “related link” section I saw this:

    http://www.avclub.com/article/revivals-shield-and-terriers-could-happen-probably-238101

    From June 12th of this year. I was like, “I am just now aware of this show, and in love with it, and now suddenly THAT?”

    • Jessie says:

      They were such good recaps! No one at the AVC can let Terriers go. Even now the comments on random articles are like….”it’s good but not as good as Terriers/man Terriers is awesome I think season four is the best/you BASTARD” or like mini wars over why people didn’t “get it” etc. And a revival is such exciting potential news and like even if it amounts to nothing, it’s so good to know that all involved think it was special too.

      (The Shield on the other hand is a perfect closed canon and needs to stay that way!)

      • sheila says:

        I can’t thank you enough for putting Terriers on my radar. It’s been a couple of months since I binge-watched it and I still think about it all the time.

        Sometimes good things happen – sometimes the right people come together at the right time and make something special. It’s a kind of small miracle.

  16. sheila says:

    Jessie:

    // I keep coming back to the word empathy because of the way these guys listen to and feel with women feels remarkable to me and so different from just about anything else I’ve seen. //

    Totally! Britt’s concern for the rape victim – even though he’s been falsely accused of being the rapist. Takes that second to find out if she’s going to be okay. It’s everywhere! The way DL treats his sister: he doesn’t ever let frustration show. At least not that I can remember. At every moment, he factors in her mental illness – in a way that is not condescending – but just dealing with her reality, and afraid for her, and knowing he has to take care of her and look out for her. I love the generosity.

    And also: how they treat each OTHER. What male relationship on TV is this open and direct about its feelings for one another? MRJ flips out about the imbalance in the relationship – how he feels like they always have to do what DL wants to do, DL overrides him, and etc.

    DL stops, takes a minute and says, “I’m sorry … I will try to be better about that.” and he means it. God, DL!!!

    And then, in the moment right after that – MRJ says – “No, no, it’s okay – it’s just that things with my girl right now – she’s being so distant – I don’t know what’s going on …”

    Now in MY world, with the men that I know – they do treat each other well, and try to do right by one another, and apologize even if it’s hard. But God, if you only looked at male relationships in pop culture – this stuff just doesn’t go on. OR – it shows up in the final scene, a big emotional climax of “I love you, man” – as opposed to woven into the relationship throughout. It really stands out for me!

    // that definition comes from how desperately these two guys cling to them. //

    Definitely. You get the sense that there’s this whole WORLD going on with these women outside of what we see – and it’d be so interesting to just follow both of THEM around for an episode. I don’t think they get short shrift though – because they are allowed to be really rough on our heroes – truthful – difficult – and they are not punished for it – or, the show doesn’t punish them. In a way, it’s tilted in their favor.

    DL’s behavior with his ex-wife and her fiancé really does border on creepy!! Like: STOP. Telling her he still loves her … it may be true, but keep that to yourself, sir! Don’t mess up her life anymore! (I love how one of the unspoken themes of the show is that DL’s years as a drunk may be over – but much of that messy behavior remains.)

    And then there’s the fascinating (to me) relationship between MRJ and his girl. He is so so so into her – and he looks at her with wonder, like, “How the fuck did a schmuck like me get so lucky?”

    And how interesting that she’s pretty self-destructive herself – she too can’t believe that she has something so good – so she tries to destroy it. That’s very human, to me. I was a little bummed about the “cheating” scenario – HOWEVER, I thought they made good use of it, giving us an opportunity to see a MAN devastated by that betrayal, as opposed to the same ol’ same ol’ of a man being a cheater, and avoiding intimacy, and all the rest.

    The scene where he learns she slept with someone else!

    They are both so GOOD in that scene – I felt like I was in heaven.

    // There’s such a strong critique of male possessiveness and sexual obsession running through the season and that’s different from the protectiveness they feel towards the other women, who they see as just human beings in uniquely vulnerable positions. //

    Very interesting point.

    I also love the unique atmosphere – this shitty town filled with drunks and druggies and dead-beats – that is a charming and close community. I grew up in a beach town and it feels very familiar.

    Can’t thank you enough for the rec.

    It was great to see MRJ too in a part totally different from Brick in “Cat.”

    Like you said – he is extremely versatile.

    A real Dark Horse.

    • sheila says:

      Oh, and the other thing that strikes me as unique is that the relationships these both guys have – DL with his ex-wife and MRJ with his girlfriend – are mid-swing when the series starts. So they’re already deeply involved. For example, they could have started the whole thing with MRJ MEETING this cool girl, and it progressing from the start – but no, we meet up with them 2 years in, and things are still good – but it’s getting a bit serious – as things tend to do – and they’re both having all these complex reactions to it.

      It starts from a deep place – for both of them.

    • Jessie says:

      okay and even WAY MORE overdue, so sorry! But it has been in the back of my brain to dart back in and say basically that I agree with pretty much everything you say. Generosity and empathy is everywhere in these men’s responses to most people in the world (and it is notable when they foreclose such responses). Each other, Hank’s sister, the big sensitive “brutish” dudes they come across, that prostitute looking for closure with her murdered friend. It’s so special and everyone seems distinct.

      That scene at the wedding where he finds out and she just can’t make it better is incredible. How he storms out, like, holding his jacket above his head? Like he needs to stretch something, break something, press against restraint, and also hide, cover himself? I’ve never forgotten it! It’s so intense!

      It starts from a deep place – for both of them.
      I think that’s such a good point! And beyond the depth of the storylines, not only does it save me from having to roll my eyes at some desperately overworked meet cute it means that the women — particularly Katie — have a place in the show, a reason for being there. They mean something. They have a relationship with the other guy. The non-PI stuff — their emotional lives — is just as important as the procedural stuff.

      • sheila says:

        // How he storms out, like, holding his jacket above his head? Like he needs to stretch something, break something, press against restraint, and also hide, cover himself? I’ve never forgotten it! It’s so intense! //

        Seriously, Jessie, that is one of the most intense breakup scenes I’ve ever seen. I knew it was going to be bad – I knew that that guy would be heartbroken and openly – but THAT? Wow.

        // that the women — particularly Katie — have a place in the show, a reason for being there. //

        Yes, that is so key. They’re substantial women. They have a lot going on outside of their relationships with the guy. And both relationships are “in medias res” – which I think also makes it strong. We don’t have to suffer through yet another “Oh hey I met this hot girl, and should I ask her out, or should we hook up, and oh noes, now I have feelings …”

        We’re past all that when the series starts. I think that was an extremely strong place to start from. It feels like you’re just picking up a thread of something that’s being going on long before you got there.

        • Jessie says:

          We don’t have to suffer through yet another “Oh hey I met this hot girl
          Yes, yet another point of distinction — it’s not interested in exploring that stuff we’ve seen before 1m times. There’s no wife character going “oh you missed the parent teacher night” or whatever. The focus is elsewhere. I love their great lawyer friend, who’s got her own whole thing going on!

          For someone who’s usually pretty good at dissembling it was obvious Brit was never going to be able to take that revelation in some contained way, but god the pain! It just overwhelmed him. Her. It’s overwhelming on the whole. Out in the bright sun…the workers still around tidying up the ceremony…everyone inside…excruciating.

          • sheila says:

            Oh my God, the lawyer. With the breast pump. How “over” them she is. Brit’s random comment as they walk down the hallway, talking about a case, and he can’t help it, he says out of the blue, “Your breasts are huge.” hahahaha She’s so tough!

            I think the thing that is so excruciating about that breakup scene – or one of the MANY things – is that of all of the problems that Brit assumed they might have (she decided he’s not good enough for her, she doesn’t want to get married, etc.) her cheating on him never once crossed his mind. It’s a devastating betrayal.

            When he yells, in anguish, “Are you bored??”

            God, so honest.

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