Life is full of lies. Most of them are small and white. They can be motivated by the desire to spare a loved one from having their feelings hurt or to avoid upsetting them.
However, some lies can topple empires. This is the crisis at hand for the Pollitt family in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” the final play in the Forrest Roberts Theater’s “Blockbuster” season. This play is directed by NMU Professor Paul Truckey and will run tonight through Saturday. Shows will be at 7:30 p.m. with a 1 p.m. matinee on Saturday, April 21.
In the heart of the South, in the Pollitt’s massive plantation home, the lies are so numerous that one can hardly move without bumping into one.
The plantation’s patriarch, Big Daddy (played by NMU professor John Covaleskie), is dying, but this fact is kept from both him and his wife. The perpetrators of this falsehood are his two sons and their wives.
The two sons, Brick (graduate student Ian Leahy) and Gooper (year? Mike Rudden) couldn’t be more different in their intentions.
“Gooper represents the effects that greed can have on relationships,” Rudden said. “He and his wife plan and plot to take over Big Daddy’s plantation. His father’s health is of very little concern to him.”
“I’ve never played an antagonist before, and in order to understand the character I had to find a way to rationalize why he does what he does,” he said.
Brick’s wife, played by Ella Bartlett, sees Gooper’s intent and is worried about it, but can’t seem to convince him to care one way or another. There is also a crackle of dishonest tension between her and Brick
“In this show, everyone is lying to everyone else and plotting against everyone for their own benefit,” Rudden said. “The few honest characters are miserable for having to live in this world full of lies.”
“The show kind of holds a mirror up to ourselves and asks us to evaluate our own motives and relationships with those around us,” he said.
When Brick holds up that mirror to his own life, he decides to make some changes.
“I see Brick as trying to push lies out of his life. His whole life is surrounded by liars,” Leahy said. “He’s turned to alcohol as a way to help him deal with this.”
Although Leahy is playing a character with a drinking problem, he said that he tried to focus on the multiple dimensions of his character.
“It’s a great acting opportunity to play a really complex tragic character,” Ian Leahy said.
“Finding all his complexities was a challenge. He’s dealing with a woman he’s attracted to, but resents. He’s dealing with the death of his best friend who presumably had homosexual feelings for him. And everybody is trying to get their hands on his father’s wealth.”
Even though each son has a different view on lying, they are both to blame for allowing their father to think his illness is less serious than it is.
“Big Daddy’s belief that he has escaped his brush with death has apparently freed him to remake his life,” Covaleskie said. “But that is not the case.”
Big Daddy had always lived his life in black and white, Covaleskie said.
“He loves his life and his son,” he said. “He has lived his life making do, adhering to convention and fighting to make his way in the world according to the rules.”
But as the situation at his plantation progresses, it seems things are no longer straightforward.
“The importance of family and fidelity are certainly part of the play’s theme,” Covaleskie said. “But Big Daddy says he hates one of his sons and his grandchildren, so go figure. Real people are defined by their contradictions, I guess.”
Williams’ plays draw consistent praise for how real and how complex his characters are.
Truckey said that as the play’s director, one of the most important things he tried to do was to serve the playwright’s sense of reality.
“‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'” is realism, so any extraneous creative concept on the director’s part would prove to be a waste of time,” he said.
With multiple layers to be explored, there isn’t a way to tap into every possible layer a character has, Covaleskie said.
“The frustration of working with great dramatic literature is that no matter how good you are at bringing the play to life, there is more depth to the material than any actor or company can realize,” he said. “No matter how deep we go, there is more depth to be plumbed. This is the joy of working with great material, but it does make me aware of my limitations as an actor.”
Leahy said that this play has all three components of good theater.
“It’s the perfect storm of theater,” Leahy said. “It has a great cast, great writing, and great directing.”