CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF by Tennessee Williams, directed by Richard Monette, with Cynthia Dale, David Snelgrove and James Blendick. Presented by the Stratford Festival at the Avon Theatre, Stratford. Runs in rep to October 29. $36.38-$95.13. 1-800-567-1600. Rating: NN
ORPHEUS DESCENDING by Tennessee Williams, directed by Miles Potter, with Seana McKenna, Jonathan Goad and Dana Green. Presented by the Stratford Festival at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford. Runs in rep to September 25. $55.34-$83.63. 1-800-567-1600. Rating: NNN Rating: NN
The emotionally heightened plays of Tennessee Williams usually make for surefire theatre, even when the writing is spotty. Ironically, at Stratford this year it's the more problematic script, Orpheus Descending , that gets the stronger production, though there are also some powerful moments in the better script, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof .
Orpheus Descending focuses on the trouble caused by sexy drifter Valentine Xavier ( Jonathan Goad ) when he arrives in a small Southern town. Though all the women are attracted to him, he's drawn to Lady Torrance ( Seana McKenna ), an Italian immigrant wed to an old, sick man ( David Francis ).
In earlier days, Lady's father was murdered by a vengeful mob and her heart broken by David Cutrere ( Scott Wentworth ), whose "exhibitionist" sister Carol ( Dana Green ) has been barred from the town. Also sexually interested in Valentine, Carol has a history with the easy-going, smooth-talking man who says he's "lived in corruption but not been corrupted."
Williams's writing, often symbolic, is heavier than usual here, and the characters are sometimes sketched rather than filled in. But the Stratford cast, directed by Miles Potter , makes a meal of some of the secondary figures. Fiona Reid , Brigit Wilson , Thom Marriott , Dixie Seatle , Joyce Campion and Michele Giroux contribute impressive cameos around the main storyline.
The slow, inexorable coming together of the overtly sensual Valentine and the guarded Lady is the centre of the piece. Each seeks physical and emotional freedom, but unfortunately, they live in a world where such freedom isn't possible. Goad's warm performance is note perfect; that of the usually fine McKenna, surprisingly, is sometimes too calculated.
The other standout in the cast is Green, whose Carol, needy, sad and ironic, is the most empathetic figure on the stage.
The more visceral Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, with fewer subsidiary characters than Orpheus, is the stronger play. Maggie ( Cynthia Dale ) is determined to hold onto her spouse and be well kept by the family she's married into. Her father-in-law, Big Daddy ( James Blendick ), is equally determined to keep his hold over the family as long as he can.
Their point of connection is Brick ( David Snelgrove ), Maggie's sexually and emotionally distant husband and Big Daddy's favourite, a former athlete dreaming of old glories and maybe nursing too strong an affection for his dead friend Skipper.
Director Richard Monette plays up the script's gothic qualities, unnecessarily staging some of the monologues as if they were spotlit operatic arias.
The centre of this production is the second-act confrontation between demanding father and alcoholic son, and here the sparks fly. But Snelgrove spends most of the play gazing vacuously into the distance or shouting at other characters; there's rarely a sense of emotions or thoughts engaging Brick beneath the surface.
Dale works hard - and looks great - as Maggie, but she has to carry most of the first act on her own and, despite some nicely bitchy moments, fails to fully convince us of Maggie's needs, sexual or financial, or of her tenacious will to get them met. Blendick's generally fine as the paterfamilias filled with bluster yet afraid of death, but at times he could contrast the bullying and the anxiety more sharply.
Lally Cadeau does one of her best Stratford turns as the properly garish, trying-too-hard Big Mama, while Wilson and Marriott offer acid-tinged performances as the avaricious couple who hope to inherit the estate.
Williams's play is full of passion, but with a Brick who's a bland, mostly clawless pussy, this Cat isn't fit for the jungle.