The Antaeus Theatre Company's new location in the heart of downtown Glendale. And when I say heart, I mean heart, like it was super temping to just pull into the parking lot and shop till curtain at the Glendale Galeria. I need more theatre-going outfits. However, Sunday afternoon I visited the new space with my friend Aly, an artist/director/ASL guru that I had met while working with A Noise Within theatre in Pasadena.
We arrived at the opening "day" 2PM matinee of the double cast production of Tennessee William's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by Cameron Watson, the production that would christen Antaeus's new home. It had been a very long time since I had studied this play, so I was excited to be going in with fresh eyes. I'm also not the biggest Tennessee Williams fan, but as you will read later, this year I have been slowly dragged back in to his style and charm. From the onset the venue seemed a bit lacking in warmth. But because this is only their first production at the new venue, with their potentially gorgeous library still in the beginning stages of becoming fully stacked with theatre literature, I hope that the character of the space will continue to gain charm as the seasons wear on the space over time. The set was exposed upon entry to the house with no curtain, although there was still a proscenium seating arrangement. Everything but the set was black or grey.
Overall, I enjoyed the show and look forward to seeing more work by this company at this space. The production had its pros and cons though, and as usual, I will try to balance my opinions by the very text of the play. For starters, Big Daddy, played with full devotion by Mike McShane was the highlight of the production. This script, very theatrically pleasingly, escalates in drama and suspense with each act, releasing more and more truth to the invested audience with each scene. So when you have a character in act two that really brings down the house, it is critical that the actor delivers just that. And McShane certainly delivers. You're both afraid of him and afraid for him. On another note, Aly and I agreed that the accents were not always 100% on point, although our ears adjusted. This is not an easy play. For the first two acts, you're pretty much either a character that is doing the majority of the talking or the majority of the listening. And there are ways to drop out of both of those tasks. The third act is kind of a mad dash for resolve and retribution amongst the play's relatively large cast. There are kids involved. All those things considering, I thought the group did a pretty good job. Even though there's a lot of talking, I was never bored. So although I would have liked to like this production even more, I liked it enough. I was satisfied. I understood the story and I felt for the characters. But I would like to someday have the frame of reference of watching other companies perform this piece. And I'm sure I will.
Brick: Did you say something?
Margaret: I was goin' t' say something: that i get lonely. very!
Brick: Ev'rybody gets that.
margaret: Living alone with someone you love can be lonelier--than living entirely alone!--if the one that y' love doesn't love you.
My final point was kind of a big drop in production value for us. Almost immediately after bows, Aly and I headed over to the Ahmanson for the second of our double feature theatre Sunday fun-day. After about two hours of processing the production we had just watched, we concluded that we found that the brief, but striking, nudity that occurred within the first ten minutes of the play did not serve the show's storytelling, when placed in the context of the three acts we had watched. I wanted this bold statement to work, because I am trying to rationalize its use in the context of Maggie and Brick's private relationship and not-so-private quarters, but in the end we both agreed that it more so took us out of the world of the play, than into the reality that those two are dealing with. It was distracting.
"But a man can't buy his life with it, he can't buy back his life when his life has been spent, that's one thing not offered in th' europe fire sale or in th' american markets or any markets on earth, a man can't buy his life with it, he can't buy back his life with it when his life is finished..." -big Daddy
So what does the show make me want to change about myself? This is kind of a big deal, but after seeing the Pasadena Playhouse's more bio-play genre production of God Looked Away about a day in the life of the senior writer Tennessee Williams, in tandem with his writing in this play, I've been called to revisit some of Tennessee's earlier works. I wrote down a number of quotes during the performance that reminded me what a powerful writer he was. The Glass Menagerie, after a number of silent years is back on my book list. It's also my partner at BAE Theatre's favorite play. Wish I could pop over to see Sally Fields in it on Broadway right now. Plot-wise, I have found that with Tennessee's work, I tend to feel a little "other people's problems" about it. I appreciate what is going on, and I sympathize for the characters, but it's not really my issue, usually. At least, yet. I'm trying to process what I have in common with these characters, even though we come from a different socioeconomic background, upbringing, region and time period.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof runs at Antaeus Theatre Company's new space through May 7th. There are two casts, and I'd be curious to hear what you think of the other group, the Buttered Biscuits. But I'd recommend The Hoppin' Johns, for Mike McShane's performance as Big Daddy alone.