A-Schaef’s #CBR4 Review #01: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams
Reviewing a classic like this is never easy. There is nothing that I can say that hasn’t been said, and there are people who know this play far better than I do, and their knowledge will bite my face off. I can’t do anything about this, so I’m just going to say what I thought and take the judgment later. I also need to confess that the two Williams plays I’m reviewing here are my first experiences with him outside of A Streetcar Named Desire.
Lovers of the play will be glad to know that I loved it as well. I thought the plot was enchantingly simple while staying very emotionally complex, and I loved how vivid and human every character was. My major issue with the play is one that probably only makes sense from the perspective of an 18-year-old university student in Canada who could never really understand what things were like in the South all those decades ago, and that is the naming. The character names came through to me like a parody of a southern movie, with names like Gooper (nicknamed “brother man”) and Big Daddy. Maybe it’s because Tennessee Williams created the whole stereotype, but it was jarring to see names that seem so comical, regardless of how beautifully written the characters were.
God damn, they were beautiful though. The thing that struck me about Williams’ writing was how perfectly every line of dialogue fit the character. I know that the goal of a playwright is to make the dialogue believable, but I’ve rarely seen it done as seamlessly as Williams does here. The characters each take on their own speech patterns and mannerisms, and they all come through completely naturally, especially in the case of Brick and Big Mama. There was not a single word in this play that didn’t make sense to me, not even when Brick pulls out the word “mendacity” to sound intelligent. The dialogue absolutely blew me away.
The other amazing thing about the play is how naturally the relationships between each character form. For every significant relationship, there is a clear moment that establishes the parameters of it, and every one could easily flow by unnoticed, they’re that subtle and simple.
I could go on for a long time about the merits of this absolutely beautiful play, but I won’t be doing it as eloquently as more well-read people could, and I’ll feel like I’m babbling. So take this review as my strongest recommendation. This play makes me consider Williams as a playwright on an even plane with Eugene O’Neill, and my friends know that I can best be described as an O’Neill devotee. Just read this play. Please.