Wednesday, May 6, 2020

82. CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975


Elizabeth Ashley, Keir Dullea.
 "In Lieu of Reviews"

Reviews of live theatre being impossible during these days of the pandemic, THEATRE'S LEITER SIDE is pleased to provide instead accounts of previous theatre seasons--encompassing the years 1970-1975-for theatre-hungry readers. If you'd like to know the background on how this previously unpublished series came to be and what its relationship is to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage volumes (covering every New York play, musical, revue, and revival between 1920 and 1950), please check the prefaces to any of the entries beginning with the letter “A.” See the list at the end of the current entry.

Company of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF [Dramatic Revival] A: Tennessee Williams; D: Michael Kahn; S: John Conklin; C: Jane Greenwood; L: Marc B. Weiss; P: American National Theatre and Academy in the American Shakespeare Theatre Production; T: ANTA Theatre; 9/24/74-2/8/75 (160)

A resoundingly effective revival of Tennessee Williams’s 1955 drama “about greed, mendacity frustration, and self-imposed isolation among the various members of a delta family,” as John Beaufort described it. It moved to Broadway after its successful summertime showing at the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut.

Michael Kahn’s staging was considered by some, like Walter Kerr, an improvement over Elia Kazan’s original version, itself a Broadway landmark. Kerr was especially interested in how much more clearly this version, through its casting of Keir Dullea as Brick, made the character’s homosexual inclinations emerge than did the Kazan mounting, with the more overtly macho Ben Gazzara in the role. Kahn’s production was also notable for its seamless blending of the two third acts Williams originally wrote, one for himself and one at Kazan’s urging. The 1955 production used the second but both were published with the script. Kahn’s seemed to several critics, like Clive Barnes, “a definitive version of the play.”

Kate Reid, Keir Dullea.
The single most remarked-on aspect, however, was Elizabeth Ashley’s Margaret a.k.a. Maggie the Cat. The alluringly beautiful Ashley, returning to Broadway after a 10-year absence, gave an absolutely dazzling enactment of the sizzling, sex and love starved character. “Sensuous, withdrawn, composed and determined, Miss Ashley’s Maggie vibrantly combines charm with grit. She can stand outside a conversation like a cobra, or flutter like a bird. Splendid,” was how Barnes put it. “Miss Ashley is hypnotic in every move,” declared Kerr. “Her Maggie the Cat is sensuous, wily, febrile, gallant and scorchingly Southern,” applauded T.E. Kalem.

Keir Dullea, Fred Gwynne.
The reviews of Fred Gwynne’s Big Daddy, Dullea’s Brick, and Kate Reid’s Big Mama were mixed—each had their detractors and supporters. (Charles Siebert was Gooper, Joan Pape was Mae, and Jeb Brown, now a New York theatre regular, made his debut as one of the children.) The revival itself was liked immensely by almost all the reviewers. Perhaps the loudest outright pan came from Martin Gottfried, who demeaned the script as “deceitful,” a boring “three hour talkathon.” Of Ashley’s work, he claimed she “occasionally reaches peaks of adequacy but generally remains on the level of self-conscious cheesecake poses.” Nonetheless, she was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Actress in a Play.

Previous entries:

Abelard and Heloise
Absurd Person Singular
“Acrobats” and “Line”
The Advertisement/
All My Sons
All Over
All Over Town
All the Girls Came Out to Play
Alpha Beta
L’Amante Anglais         
American Gothics
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little       
And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers
And Whose Little Boy Are You?
Anna K.
Anne of Green Gables
Any Resemblance to Persons Living or Dead
As You Like It
The Au Pair Man

Baba Goya [Nourish the Beast]
The Ballad of Johnny Pot
Barbary Shore
The Bar that Never Closes
The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel
The Beauty Part
The Beggar’s Opera
Behold! Cometh the Vanderkellens
Be Kind to People Week
Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill
Bette Midler’s Clams on a Half-Shell Revue
Black Girl
Black Light Theatre of Prague
Black Picture Show
Black Sunlight
The Black Terror
Black Visions
Les Blancs
Blasts and Bravos: An Evening with H,L. Mencken
Blue Boys
Bob and Ray—The Two and Only
Boesman and Lena
The Boy Who Came to Leave
A Breeze from the Gulf
Brief Lives
Brother Gorski
Bullshot Crummond
The Burnt Flower Bed
Button, Button
Buy Bonds, Buster

The Cage
Candide (1)
Candide (2)
The Candyapple
Captain Brassbound’s Conversion
The Caretaker
La Carpa de los Raquichis
The Carpenters
The Castro Complex