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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Matt de Rogatis, Courtney Henggeler, and Frederick Weller in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Photo by Ismaeel Skalli


Cat on a Hot Tin Roof


By Cammy Paglia



Tennessee Williams grappled with his many demons, internalized homophobia and alcoholism being the most monstrous. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1955, is an unabashed look at his afflictions.

Matt de Rogatis portrays a phenomenal Brick Pollit. He is a closeted, tortured gay man who is trapped in a marriage to Maggie (Courtney Henggeler who has TV credits to her name) that has eroded into a sham. One of the themes of this play is mendacity. This couple’s relationship is the exemplar of such dishonesty. 

The riveting De Rogatis is tasked with the difficult job of depicting a character who is perpetually plastered—he is seen pouring alcohol down his throat throughout the play. He is further encumbered by needing to rely on a crutch to get around the stage. (He broke his ankle in a nostalgic attempt to recreate his glory days as a handsome, virile athlete by jumping hurdles on the high school‘s sports track).


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Matt de Rogatis in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Photo by Max Bieber

Any college kid taking Acting 101 can appreciate the tremendous disadvantages such impediments as these present in order to execute a role. De Rogatis is a pro. He stumbles, falls and spaces out from the drink in such a convincing manner that his Brick is made manifest in grand style.

Brick is the younger and favored son of two boys fathered by Big Daddy (Frederick Weller), a wealthy plantation owner. Brick drinks excessively because he is haunted by his latent, internalized homophobia—exacerbated by the suicide of Skipper, who outright loved Brick. They were best friends and football teammates. The are no spoiler alerts here. Let it suffice to say that there is more to this story and Maggie has a part in it. 

Maggie, Brick’s wife, is a self-proclaimed cat on a hot tin roof. Her stage presence is spellbinding. She uses the term “cat” to describe herself because she is easily irritated and restless. The hot tin roof is a metaphor for her marriage to Brick who is not sexually attracted to Maggie despite the fact that she is gorgeous.


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Courtney Hengler and  Matt de Rogatis in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Photo by Max Bieber


Maggie is a trophy wife—the object of heterosexual male desire. She flits around the stage in red lingerie accentuating her curvaceous body.  Through highly sexualized and seductive references to how desirable she is to Big Daddy, who she hints is a lech toward her, she tries to seduce a very drunk and disinterested Brick. 

Maggie has not conceived a child because of Brick’s disdain, or more precisely his disgust ,for Maggie despite the fact that she is truly a hot woman. She loves Brick despite his contempt for her but also wants to have his child to ensure a hefty inheritance when Big Daddy, who has been diagnosed with cancer, dies. Everyone except Big Daddy and his wife, Big Mama, (Alison Fraser), know his diagnosis. Alas, here is another obvious example of mendacity.

The backdrop for the play is centered around Big Daddy’s 65th birthday party, with fireworks exploding on the river to celebrate the tycoon and a storm brewing in the background as well. Christian Specht (Lighting Design), Matthew Imhoff (Scenic Design) and Tomas Correa (Sound Design) take credit for these elements which add to the ambiance in making the setting in a mansion come to life. 


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Matt de Rogatis and Frederick Weller in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Photo by Max Bieber


If there are any faults with this production, casting is a glaring deficiency. 
Frederick Weller does not embody the stage presence of the character known as Big Daddy. Weller is too young for the part and could have easily been taken for Brick’s contemporary. He also does not offer a commanding demeanor. A larger and older man would have been better suited to play the captivating Big Daddy role. In short, Weller is a weak Big Daddy. 

Two other casting blunders take the form of the two other actresses in this production. Alison Fraser, who plays Big Mama, has the acting chops for this part. However, the references to Big Mama, Brick’s mother, are that she is fat and old. Alison Fraser is an extremely petite and delicate woman who is light as a feather. She does not at all capture the form of a robust, old and fat mother type. 
Finally, Mae (Christine Copley) the wife of Brick’s older brother Gooper (Adam Dodway) who could have waxed more bombastic in putting forth his avarice for Big Daddy’s inheritance, is also miscast.


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Frederick Weller and Alison Fraser in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Photo by Max Bieber


Mae is referenced as being a similar kind of woman to Maggie. While it is unclear if the reference is about her appearance or her personality, the pregnant Mae is neither breathtakingly beautiful nor is she seductive.  Furthermore, she definitely does not exude the sassiness of Maggie, the cat. While her acting is appropriate, her appearance and affectations do not encompass the character.

In mentioning Mae, the theme of mendacity once again comes into play here.  Gooper and Mae’s greed toward Big Daddy’s fortune is shameful.
Furthermore, as previously stated, Big Daddy’s cancer is intentionally kept hidden from him and Big Mama. It is important to reiterate that this is clearly another mendacious tactic employed by this  dysfunctional alcoholic family who lives their lives in a  miasma of falsehoods. 

In an effort to be thorough and fair in writing this review it would be remiss not to mention Milton Elliott (Rev. Tooker) and Jim Kempner (Doc Baugh). Though their parts were minor, they both did an appropriate job of acting out their roles.

This revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof leaves the audience with thrills and titillation begging for more. The genius of Tennessee Williams’ play is in an artistic, interwoven mosaic of life’s intricacies. The man had so much to say about the torment and foibles of the human condition. However, despite the fact that this masterpiece chronicles the interactions of wealthy Southerners, its poignancy and significance are at the core of this inescapable phenomenon which we call life.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof


•Theater at St. Clement’s
423 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036 (between 9th and 10th Avenues)
•Runtime: 2 hours and 45 minutes with an intermission 
•Through March 31, 2023
•For Tickets: