Raven Theatre has opened its 2010/2011 season with a bang! A show that is rarely done in Chicago is the opener for this troupe of talented actors and directors, Tennessee Williams’ classic “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”, a sultry story of a family that finds its Patriarch, Big Daddy ( skillfully played by Jon Steinhagen, who proves with this portrayal that he is an actor who can do more than the comedy we are used to) , on his 60thBirthday is facing death from Cancer. Big Daddy has two sons, the eldest, Gooper ( Greg Caldwell) and the younger, Brick ( deftly handled by Jason Huysman) who is the favoritet. Both sons are married, Gooper to Mae ( Eleanor Katz) and Brick to Maggie ( a superb and very sensual Liz Fletcher). Gooper and Mae have five children with another on the way and Brick and Maggie are childless.
What we learn in the first act is that Brick’s best friend , since their high school football days, Skipper is dead and since his death, Brick has been hitting the liquor bottle on a regular basis. He has also moved from the marriage bed to the couch in their stately suiteon the grounds of Big Daddy’s plantation. There are more reasons for brick’s indifference to Maggie and why his best friend’s death has caused him to dismantle his life. Meanwhile, both of the daughter-in-laws are planning what to do to get the full inheritance of the plantation and propert when Big Daddy dies. Each of the family members, knowing that Big Daddy will die soon, wants their piece of the pie and Big Mama ( a solid performance by JoAnn Montemurro), who is unaware of the real health problems her husband faces attempts to keep her family intact and her husband happy.
Williams takes us on a long trip through a dysfunctional family ( about two and a half hours in 3 acts) and all the action takes place in and around the suite that is home to Brick and Maggie. The first act is primarily between Maggie and Brick and it is hear we learn of their current situation- a non-blissful marriage. In the second act, we learn a great deal more about the relationship between Brick and Big daddy ( there is some very powerful acting in this act and this is where Steinhage really shows his true talent) and in the third act , we learn just how strong each of the characters are in their desire and greediness. Part of what Brick is suffering through is that it turns out that his best friend was in fact a homosexual and made a pass at him, then to prove that he wasn’t really Gay, he slept with Maggie, but that plan failed and although it is never spelled out, it would appear took his own life. This series of events took its toll on Brick and his ability to have a relationship. Director Michael Menendian works each character to its fullest and draws from each actor all the emotion needed to make this play work. Even the smaller roles and handled to perfection; Mike Boone, Jonathan Nichols and Justin Castellano, but the majority of the story revolves around Brick, Maggie, Big Mama and Big Daddy. The set designed by Ray Toler is extraordinary ( of late all their sets have been top-notch) with closets, doors, hallways, terraces, all seeming very real. Christine Ferriter’s lighting, Katherine M. Chavez’s sound and the costumes by Mina Hyun-Ok Hong are very fitting. The other two notables are the background music composed by Leif Olsen and the props by Mary O’Dowd. It seems that raven Theatre is better at finding the right props than most other companies. Every show is filled withall the right touches and as small as that may be in credit, this detail is what makes the production complete.
Raven, in its “mission Statement” says that it is dedicated to breathing new life into American Classics- well, in their “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” their mission is accomplished! You can view this quality production at The Raven Theatre located at 6157 N. Clark Street ( at Granville) through December 19th with performances as follows:
Thursday,Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 P.M. and Sundays at 3 p.m. ( no show on November 25th)
Tickets are $30 ( a value for theater of this quality) there is a $5 discount for students and seniors.
To purchase tickest call 773-338-2177 or visit www.raventheatre.com
There is some parking in th elot ( free) and plenty of street parking. Meters in the area do go to 9 p.m.
The Clark Street ( 22) and Broadway ( 36) stop right at the corner.