When Brick and Big Daddy came out to each other

Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.
Theatre legend Tennessee Williams wrote Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955, and just about every minute of his drama still shocks and surprises audiences. This was proven by the many gasps and open laughter at opening night at the Walnut Street Theatre February 22nd.
For over two centuries the Walnut has kept audiences enthralled at its original site on Walnut Street, and it continues to do so with this production. 
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof visits a millionaire and his family on his 65th birthday at his plantation, where all of the terrible secrets of just about everyone will become voiced amid birthday cakes, fireworks, and noisy children. Will Big Daddy find out he’s been lied to by the doctors? Yes. Will everyone weigh in on favored younger son Brick’s drinking problem? Yes. Will the gay couple who created the plantation, taking on a strong, poor boy to inherit it, be mentioned? Well, yes and no. Will Big Daddy and Brick have a serious conversation about homosexual desire? Absolutely.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof we learn is what Brick calls his wife Margaret because she is so mean and cutting to everyone. “Well, just jump off” that hot, tin roof, but Maggie just won’t or can’t because things aren’t going her way, and she plans to make them go her way. 
Alanna Smith brilliantly portrays Maggie. She holds forth for the entire first act filling in the backstory as she talks at her alcohol-infused husband Brick, amazingly played with animal magnetism by the fine Matthew Amira. Maggie paces about their bedroom, only half-looking at her husband since she really won’t look at him the way he is, catching glimpses of him in an off-stage mirror. Maggie even tells him that his father is eyeing her lecherously as he completely ignores her. 
We then meet Gooper’s family. Gooper, played by David Bardeen, is the eldest and least favored son, a successful attorney, and not very attractive, and his repulsive wife Mae, evilly played by Alicia Roper, who is pregnant with yet another child to add to what Maggie has called “the no-necked monsters,” their children. 
Big Daddy’s wife is naturally called Big Mama, played with Southern restraint mingled with hysteria by Wendy Scharfman. The reverend, trusted servant, and family physician round out the birthday party.
We first meet Scott Greer, way too young to play the gruff Big Daddy at age 65. Greer depicts him with all the requisite duality he needs to cover his own wounds while projecting mastery over everyone and everything. Greer gives an amazing performance. Big Daddy requires Brick to tell him his secrets. After Big Daddy’s shouting, and catching family members and the Reverend eavesdropping, Brick tells his father that his close friend Skipper had been seduced by Maggie and failed to be aroused, later telling Brick on the telephone that all along he las loved Brick, who just hangs up on his best friend, leading Skipper to alcoholism and death, and Brick’s wish to be numbed by alcohol. Big Daddy tells Brick he acted shamefully towards Skipper. He reasons with his son with a cool and steady explanation of his own life story. Big Daddy tells Brick he knows all about such things, and what goes on between men, having been a young, shoeless hobo before the gay couple took him on to help run the plantation. Tellingly, Big Daddy continues that when one of them died, he took over since the surviving lover was too distraught to carry on. Did the strapping young man also take the place of the dead man … in all respects? We only need to guess, since he was the heir to the plantation both gay men had created. Big Daddy married Big Mama, who he says never gave him joy in the bedroom. They had one boy, and another eight years later who became the apple of his eye, and that has been tall, handsome, and athletic Brick. 
You may think this was a deeply coded way for Tennessee Williams to let us in on the fact that Big Daddy had been gay for a while, and found it more satisfying than being straight, so wise up son. You did wrong with Skipper. Now as master of this plantation, follow in my footsteps and have children, as society demands.
If you still wonder why and if you should see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, child, have you been reading? Absolutely yes. Rarely performed, thank your lucky stars that Bernard Havard directs this complex story of mendacity, society, wealth, yes, love, and the power of truth.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof will be at Philadelphia’s historic Walnut Street Theatre until March 12, 2023. 
For information and tickets, call 215-574-3550, or visit walnutstreettheatre.org 

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