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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a play by Tennessee Williams. One of Williams's best-known works, the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955, has been restaged several times since, and was adapted into an acclaimed 1958 motion picture.

Plot

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" is the story of a Southern family in crisis, focusing on the turbulent relationship of a husband and wife, Brick and Maggie ("The Cat") Pollitt, and their interaction with Brick's family over the course of one evening gathering at the family estate in Mississippimarker, ostensibly to celebrate the birthday of patriarch and tycoon "Big Daddy" Pollitt. Maggie, though witty and beautiful, has escaped a childhood of desperate poverty to marry into the wealthy Pollitt family, but finds herself suffering in an unfulfilling marriage. Brick, an aging football hero, has neglected his wife and further infuriates her by ignoring his brother's attempts to gain control of the family fortune. Brick's indifference and his near-continuous drinking dates back to the recent suicide of his friend Skipper. Big Daddy is unaware that he has cancer and will not live to see another birthday; his doctors and his family have conspired to keep this information from him and his wife. His relatives are in attendance and attempt to present themselves in the best possible light, hoping to receive the definitive share of Big Daddy's enormous wealth.

Themes

The theme of the play is mendacity, a word Brick uses to describe his disgust with the world. Moreover, it revolves around the lies in the aging and decaying Southern society. With one exception, the entire family lies to Big Daddy and Big Mama, as does the doctor. Big Daddy lies to his wife.

The play alludes to the presence of homosexuality in Southern society and examines the complicated rules of social conduct in this culture. Tennessee Williams himself was unclear about the nature of Brick's feelings for his friend Skipper while developing different versions of the play.

There are two versions of the play, one of which was influenced by director Elia Kazan, who directed the play on Broadwaymarker, and another which was performed for the first time in Londonmarker.

Stage productions

The original Broadway production, which opened in 1955, was directed by Elia Kazan and starred Barbara Bel Geddes as Maggie; Ben Gazzara as Brick; Burl Ives as Big Daddy; Mildred Dunnock as Big Mama; Pat Hingle as Gooper; and Madeleine Sherwood as Mae. Bel Geddes was the only cast member nominated for a Tony Award, and Kazan was nominated for Best Director of a Play. Both Ives and Sherwood would reprise their roles in the 1958 film version. The cast also featured the southern blues duo Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry and had as Gazzara's understudy the young Cliff Robertson. When Mr. Gazzara left the play, Jack Lord was chosen to replace him.

A 1974 revival featured Elizabeth Ashley, Keir Dullea, Fred Gwynne, Kate Reid, and Charles Siebert. Ashley was nominated for a Tony Award. In that same decade, John Carradine and Mercedes McCambridge toured in a road company production as Big Daddy and Big Mama, respectively. For this production, Williams restored much of the text which he had removed from the original production at the insistence of Elia Kazan. According to Elizabeth Ashley, Williams also allowed the actors to examine his original notes and various drafts of the script to make their own additions to the dialogue.

The 1988 London National Theatre production, directed by Howard Davies, starred Ian Charleson, Lindsay Duncan, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, and Eric Porter.

A 1990 revival featured Kathleen Turner who received a Tony nomination for her performance as Maggie, though New York Magazine called her "hopelessly lost...in this limp production." Charles Durning, as Big Daddy, received a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play. Daniel Hugh Kelly was Brick, and Polly Holliday was Big Mama. Holliday also received a Tony nomination.

A 2003 revival received lukewarm reviews despite the presence of film stars Ashley Judd and Jason Patric. Only Ned Beatty, as Big Daddy, and Margo Martindale, as Big Mama, were singled out for impressive performances. Martindale received a Tony nomination.

A 2004 production at the Kennedy Centermarker featured Mary Stuart Masterson as Maggie, Jeremy Davidson as Brick, George Grizzard as Big Daddy, Dana Ivey as Big Mama, and Emily Skinner as Mae.

A 2008 all-African-American production, directed by Debbie Allen, opened on Broadway to mixed reviews. Film star Terrence Howard made his Broadway debut as Brick, alongside stage veterans James Earl Jones (Big Daddy), Phylicia Rashad (Big Mama), Anika Noni Rose (Maggie) and Lisa Arrindell Anderson (Mae). The production will move to London's West End in November 2009[13907].

Original Broadway Cast



Adaptations

The big-screen version of the play was made in 1958 by MGM, and starred Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Judith Anderson, and Jack Carson, with Burl Ives and Madeleine Sherwood reprising their stage roles. The Hays Code limited how clearly the film could portray Brick's past sexual desire for Skipper, and thus diminished the original play's critique of homophobia and sexism. Although it was very discreet in referring to the supposed homosexual themes, and although it had a somewhat revised "third act", it was highly acclaimed and was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman both received Oscar nominations for their performances, and most critics agreed that the film provided both them and Burl Ives with their finest screen roles up to that time. Curiously, Burl Ives was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year, and won, but not for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He won it for his role in the epic Western The Big Country. Reportedly, MGM executives had mistakenly put Ives' name in the wrong category during the Academy Award nominations process, although Ives could certainly be said to have played a supporting role in Cat. It is possible that Cat may have been too controversial for the Academy voters - the film won no Oscars, and the Best Picture award went to Gigi that year.

In 1976, a television version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was produced, starring the then husband-and-wife team of Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, and featuring Laurence Olivier as Big Daddy and Maureen Stapleton as Big Mama. It received mixed reviews, but is considered by many to be one of the better versions of the play. Another television version was produced in 1985, starring Jessica Lange, Tommy Lee Jones, Rip Torn, Kim Stanley and Penny Fuller. This version brought back all the sexual innuendoes that the 1958 film had muted. Both Stanley and Fuller were nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special, and Stanley went on to win. It was a reunion of sorts for Stanley and Lange, who received Oscar nominations for playing mother and daughter in 1982's Frances.

Famous quotations

  • Brick: One man has one great good true thing in his life. One great good thing which is true! I had friendship with Skipper. You are namin' it dirty!
  • Big Daddy: What's that smell in this room? Didn't you notice it, Brick? Didn't you notice the powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room?
  • Maggie: I'll win, alright.

    Brick: Win what? What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?

    Maggie: Just staying on it, I guess. As long as she can.
  • Maggie: I'm not living with you! We occupy the same cage, that's all.
  • Maggie: One more crack queenie, just one, and I will not only spit in your eye but I will punch it black and blue.
  • Mae: The only thing Brick ever had to carry was a football or a highball.
  • Brick: Maggie, you are ruinin' my liquor.
  • Maggie: And nothing's more determined than a cat on a hot tin roof. Is there? Is there, baby?
  • Big Daddy: Wouldn't it be funny if that were true?
  • Big Mama: When the marriage is on the rocks, the rocks are 'there! (pointing at the bed)
  • Big Daddy: Why do you drink so much?

    Brick: Gimme another drink and I'll tell you.


References

  • Bloom, Harold (Ed.) Tennessee Williams: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.
  • Cañadas, Ivan. “The Naming of Straw and Ochello in Tennessee Williams’s Cat On a Hot Tin Roof”, English Language Notes 42.4 (June 2005): 57-62.
  • Clum, John M. “‘Something Cloudy, Something Clear’: Homophobic Discourse in Tennessee Williams”, South Atlantic Quarterly 88.1 (Winter 1989): 161-79.
  • Plooster, Nancy. “Silent Partners: Lost Lovers in American Drama”. 1995 Queer Frontiers: Proceedings of the Fifth Annual National Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Graduate Student Conference. University of Southern California. March 23-26, 1995, Ed. John Waiblinger. University of Southern California Library. /www.usc.edu/isd/archives/queerfrontiers/queer/papers/plooster.html>
  • Spoto, Donald. The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1985.
  • Stanton, Stephen S. (Ed.) Tennessee Williams: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1977.
  • Winchell, Mark Royden. “Come Back to the Locker Room Ag’in, Brick Honey!”, Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 48:4 (Fall 1995): 701-12.
  • The National, indie rock band. "City Middle" from the record "Alligator"


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