(An excerpt from The Stylesmyths: Vintage Reportage on Broadway)
I don’t think it was a coincidence that as my orange tabby slept curled up in the corner chair, my vintage Playbill for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof spilled across my home office desk — emerging from a black hole of bills, letters and papers piled high. These last few months, I made a mental note to select one play to write about from my collection. “Cat” is one of my earliest Playbills, dated 1956, and as the Fates would have it, a perfect choice for Pride Month.
A play about the idea of tolerance couldn’t be more in step with the times. This play, written at the height of McCarthyism and the The Cold War, illustrates how America paid for her post-war affluence with a national anxiety fueled by the nuclear arms race and politically generated fear. We fomented a fever pitch compulsion to maintain appearances of normalcy and conformity at all costs, regardless of the messy underbelly. Fast-forward and substitute ingredients of postmodern conservatism, civil unrest, home-grown terrorism, mass shootings, suspicion and conspiracy theories galore and you bake a similar cake. History may not repeat, but it sure can rhyme.
A 2012 Broadway revival of “Cat” starring Scarlett Johannsen as Margaret and co-star Benjamin Walker as Brick was well received by audiences and critics alike. The play also made a revival in London’s West End.
Tennessee Williams play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, premiered at The Morosco Theatre on March 4, 1955. It was one of Williams’s best-known works and his personal favorite. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that year and ran nearly 700 performances. A Southern Gothic morality tale that unfolds in the steaming Mississippi Delta; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof presents several recurring themes that continues to define America six decades forward. Need evidence? Well, tune into the 24/7 news cycle to be bombarded with a concoction of truth vs. illusion, out-sized greed, superficiality, lying, sexual repression and death in every flavor, form and variety. Add a few egg whites and cream of tartar to the mix and you have a post-pandemic recipe for heightened fear and loathing.
Set in the plantation home of Big Daddy Pollitt, a wealthy cotton tycoon, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof examines relationships among members of Big Daddy’s family, primarily between his son Brick and Maggie the “Cat”, Brick’s sexually deprived wife. The original Broadway production, directed by Elia Kazan , starred Barbara Bel Geddes as…