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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof a mixed bag
June 29, 2012 Lisa Betz   

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Photo by Elizabeth Gross/ Gering Citizen - With renewed vigor after learning he does not have cancer, Big Daddy (played by William Groth) tries to discover the reason for son Brick's (played by Tim Cochran) slide into alcoholism.

If you went to the theatre Friday night for Theatre Westís performance of Tennesee Williamís classic play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and left at the first intermission, you missed a great show. The first act saw Maggie the Cat on a slippery tin roof with a long drop to the bottom. It isnít necessarily actress Amber Turnerís fault. The role was simply beyond her experience.

Turner has charisma, she is interesting, but she isnít ready to carry an act by herself, especially when her scene partner Tim Cochran as Brick, gives next to nothing back. Fault director John OíHagan, fault the abbreviated rehearsal process, I donít know what it was but even a character sitting on a stage for 30 minutes with a perpetual drink of disgust in his hand can be interesting if there is something going on inside. Of that we saw little.

Both actors came alive in the second act with support from stronger actors and more action to play with but the real gem of this production, well-worth sitting through the first act for, is Big Daddy, played by William Groth. Groth sets fire to the stage. Here is the heat of this production, with Big Daddy bringing the playís only sanity to a crazy set of spoiled southerners determined to get the juiciest pickins when Big Daddy kicks the bucket, which apparently isnít too far off.

The play centers on the Pollitt family, one of the weathiest famlies in the Mississippi Delta. Big Daddyís 65th birthday is cause for celebration and so is the news that his recent tests for cancer are negative, thus breathing new life into the man who thought he was dead and nearly buried.

Big Daddy is clearly the embodiement of power and privilege, although it bores him. Yet while he was busy feeling sorry for himself about dying, his favorite son has become a drunk who wonít sleep with his wife, and his other son, played by Andy Brown, the one he can barely stomach being in the same room with, schemes to inherit his wealth.

Now that all is well, Big Daddy is back, and struggles to solve the dilemma of Brick, who merely says he is disgusted. Props to Cochran, who performs an incredibly well-executed prat fall with a crutch. It was gasp worthy.

While a storm brews outside; however, the eye is inside Brick and Maggieís bedroom, where they are being spied on and ridiculed by their inlaws. But the family squall is about to break. Not only is Big Daddy getting to the bottom of Brickís disgust, we know that the doctor has lied to Big Daddy and his wife, Big Mama, well-played by local actress Christi Weis. The cancer is riddled throughout Big Daddyís body and just as soon as the partyís over, the truth is coming out.

Itís a train-wreck unfolding and the audience canít avert their eyes because Big Daddy is just so magnetic, so irreverent, so shocking and delightful. Grothís performance was living art on Friday. It was so good, I might go see the show again, despite the first act. And yet there is hope that Maggie the Cat will sharpen her claws as the run continues. As I said, Turner has something going, just not quite fully developed into the richness required for Maggie.

Casting was uneven when it comes to type, which jolted at times when the playright clearly describes physicality that is absolutely opposite the actors. Physically, Weiss is just not heavy enough to pull off the fat woman who is verbally abused by her husband. That dog donít hunt, as they say in the south, and Turner does not fit the description of Maggie.

Another glimmer of greatness is Shelly Ponceletís snide, tacky, money-grubbing Mae, the continuously breeding sister-in-law who doesnít know when to keep her mouth shut. Poncelet delivers and with aplomb.

Overall, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a show worth seeing, and for anyone who lives to see acting at its most breathtaking, this show is a must see. It is rare to see a performance that makes you squirm with its intensity. A performance like Grothís is like a drug, one just has to go back for more.

Performances of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof continue this week, June 28-30. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices vary and some discounted rates are available. Call the box office at (308) 635-6193. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is not recommended for young audiences.
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