Pictured: Vanessa Severo and Nathan Darrow. Photo by Don Ipock.
By Megan Greenlee
“Sizzling,” “sensuous” and “smoldering” were the words that floated around my mind as I watched the opening night of Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
Set in Maggie and Brick’s bedroom on Big Daddy’s plantation, the bed takes central focus as we open with Maggie, played by the dynamic Vanessa Severo, talkin’. She talks AT Brick (Nathan Darrow), and she just keeps talkin’ and Brick just keeps drinkin’. Maggie talks about Gooper and Mae, Brick’s brother and sister-in-law, and their “no-neck monsters.” She talks about not having a child of their own, about Brick’s best friend Skipper, and so much more. She goes on and on, meanwhile Brick is a brewing thunderstorm. This all leads to a charged scene that ends the act and leaves you all in. With your head is spinning, you marvel at Severo’s ability to take you on an emotional rollercoaster with brakes that don’t quite work.
The second act opens with everyone coming to the bedroom to celebrate Brick’s father, Big Daddy’s birthday, and his supposed good bill of health. But all is not as it seems for Big Daddy (played by the powerful Paul Vincent O’Connor), who enters the room, commands the stage and gives us a show-stopping scene.
From there the show pushes forward in a heart-stopping way. Big Daddy shoves everyone out of the room, and like Maggie, begins to talk AT Brick, eventually moving towards questions he demands the answers to until Brick finally cracks and explodes, spilling it all and leaving you gasping for air. For all Big Daddy’s crass behavior, his colorful language and contempt for his wife, he is the most honest character in the show. He never judges Brick, he just listens and tells him he loves him. We need more of those parents. Parents that love their children, parents who don’t judge or demand that they be “normal.” We need parents who will simply sit, listen, and love.
As you enter the third act you know what is coming. Everything is revealed, Big Daddy lays down the law and Maggie makes an announcement that changes everything. But after all that has happened, there are still lies, still deception and greed pervade, and in the end, Maggie tells the worst lie out of desperation and love. The show ends with Maggie, the Cat, determined to have her way with Brick.
“A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is not for the faint of heart and features a cast of all-stars. Severo plays Maggie with sensuous success, and Darrow was a stand out giving us a Brick that is raw, like a live nerve. O’Conner plays Big Daddy with a power that is felt throughout the room while Merle Moores’ Big Mama is full of heart and soul that wrenched my own heart out. Amy Attaway is stellar, offering us a Mae that made me laugh and also dislike her, while Darren Kennedy’s portrayal of Goober definitely drove home why no one likes Goober. Damron Russel Armstrong as Reverend Tooker brought the energy and had the biggest laughs. The entire ensemble is on point.
“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” features set design by Lee Savage (walls lined with bottles was a brilliant move), and lovely costume designs by Theresa Squire that never distract the audience away from the play, Director Lisa Rothe’s skill is evident mere seconds into the show, and her ability to deliver the hidden message is terrific. It’s a message that speaks to us today.
Are you not dealing with obstacles that face you? Are you the person who seeks solace at the end of the bottle? Are you the parent who sits, listens and loves? All in all “Cat” boils down to one question – are you the cat on the hot tin roof?