Tennessee Williams’ 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” opens Oct. 17 at Town Hall Theater in Middlebury. In the play, a birthday party is being thrown for Big Daddy (played by Steve Small), who has been ill for years but has never chosen who will inherit his rich Mississippi Delta cotton plantation.
Younger son Brick (Charlie Murphy), former golden boy athlete at Ole Miss, is Big Daddy’s favorite by far, but has become alcoholic after the death of his teammate and closest friend Skipper. Brick is not only too impaired to run a business, he seems unable or unwilling to produce his own heir with his beautiful wife Maggie (Katie Hartke).
Older son Gooper (Joe Schine) is a successful lawyer and has heirs aplenty, five noisy and “neckless” children plus one more on the way. He knows his best chance is sending Brick away to rehab and persuading Big Daddy to sign over the estate.
Middlebury Actors Workshop artistic director Melissa Lourie felt that “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” offered the perfect role for company member Steve Small. “I believe Steve was born to play the role of Big Daddy. He understands his hardness and bluster but tempers it with so much humanity and even tenderness.”
Lourie felt that the key to making this play work was having the right three actors in the leading roles. She found her Maggie and Brick in New York City, after auditioning many candidates in Vermont and New York. Lourie says, “Katie Hartke and Charlie Murphy are consummate professionals who bring a great deal of expertise to their roles. Katie has the grace and fire and beauty required of Maggie the Cat, and Charlie is going to be marvelous as the handsome former athlete who has basically given up on life. Another reason I chose this particular Williams play is that it captures the elusive quality of real life; real people dealing with complex relationships and situations that feel very familiar. It’s also got a much more hopeful ending than some of his other plays we see more often.”
A handsome set design by Jon Craine evokes an elegant southern plantation bedroom and gallery and gives the actors maximum scope for the comings and goings of a large family during the course of a single evening’s birthday party. The family is rounded out by Big Mama (Stephanie Gallas), Gooper’s wife Mae (Tanya Lehman), their children, and family friends Rev. Tooker (Peter Espenshade) and Doc. Baugh (Bob Carmody).
The drama turns on Maggie’s battle to secure Brick’s inheritance, save her marriage, and release herself from the loneliness she describes as being “a cat on a hot tin roof.” Katie Hartke is grateful for the artistic challenge of this central part. “Any time you get the gift of one of these roles, with so many layers of emotional and psychological complexity to delve into, for me that’s fun.” Preparing for the role took months, Hartke adds, but until rehearsals were well under way she avoided influencing her conception of the role by watching the 1958 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman.
Can Maggie the Cat ever jump down from the roof? This lyrical classic American drama keeps that secret until the very end, and beyond. On the way are some unforgettable words about love, truth and the human condition. Don’t miss it.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Melissa Lourie
Thurs., Fri., Sat., Oct. 17, 18 & 19 at 7:30 p.m., $22
Saturday matinee Oct. 19 at 2 p.m., $20
Sunday evening Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. $22
Town Hall Theater
Maggie Katie Hartke*
Brick Charlie Murphy*
Mae Tanya Lehman
Big Mama Stephanie Gallas
Gooper Joe Schine
Big Daddy Steve Small
Rev. Tooker Peter Espenshade
Dr. Baugh Bob Carmody
Buster Devon Kearns
Polly Amanda Kearns
Trixie Amelia Quesnel
Sookey Mary Scripps
Lacey Ark Lemal
----Design & Technical Staff----
Stage Manager Dora Greven
Scenic Design Jon Craine
Lighting Design Matthew Stone
Costume Design MaryKay Dempewolff
Sound Design Sam Hurlburt
Properties/ASM Kathleen Walls
Poster Design Jory Raphael
Technical Director Jon Portman
Board Operator Jessica Krol
Technical assistance Tom Noble