What difference does it make that Tennessee Williams's play is performed by a black cast in Debbie Allen's Broadway production? It undoubtedly gives the work a new dynamic. But ethnicity matters less than emotional firepower and an awareness of the essential Williams conflict between lies and truth; and both are abundantly present in this exhilarating evening.
The real bonus is the presence of the titanic James Earl Jones as Big Daddy; and his second-act, father-son confrontation with Adrian Lester's Brick is one of the high water-marks of the London year. Jones gives us all the brutal coarseness and volcanic vulgarity of this Mississippi plantation-owner who believes his cancer is in remission: rejoicing in his apparent new lease of life, Jones does little hip-swinging shimmies and obscene pelvic thrusts. But the brilliance of Jones's performance lies in his revelation of the vulnerability of this domestic tyrant. Probing the reason for Brick's alcholism and its connection with the death of his friend Skipper, Jones takes on the look of a wounded therapist. And the sudden stabs of pain with which Jones punctuates the scene acquire a shattering force when Big Daddy finally confronts the truth of his condition.
This second act is the core of Williams's play: that, while we zealously strip away the protective illusions of others, we cling assiduously to our own. Lester, in this respect, makes a fine foil to Jones's Big Daddy. He makes you realise that Brick's obsessive drinking springs from an evasion of reality: the truth he cannot face is that his relationship with the dead Skipper transcended pure friendship. The irony of Lester's cry that "mendacity is the the system that we live in" is that it applies most of all to himself.
But Allen's fine production brings out Williams's savage comedy as well as his emotional pain. Sanaa Lathan's incredibly sultry Maggie, long banished from Brick's bed, is both a mountain of sexual frustration and an unstoppable talker who drives her husband to hide his head in the pillows. Phylicia Rashad's excellent Big Mama is also both a pathetic victim of her husband's cruelty and a woman who, as someone said of Ethel Merman, is like a brass band going by. And there is good support from Peter de Jersey as Brick's elder brother whose grasping nature is explained by his lack of parental love.
As in any good Williams production, one emerges moved by the author's compassion.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
View the full article
Guardian: Theatre review | Cat On a Hot Tin Roof | Novello, London
No replies to this topic
0 user(s) are reading this topic
0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users