Sunday, 21 August 2011

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams (5/5)

The back says: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, one of his masterpieces, conveys his work of the dark, primitive elements that lurk beneath the superficial civilisation of the American South. One hot summer night in the house of the Mississippi Delta’s richest cotton-planter, a family imprisoned by the past is torn apart by the revelations of feelings of lust, greed and envy.

I say: First off, I know that there are a lot of people who feel/think that a play should be seen on stage, and not read, but I have never had any issues with that. Yes, a do agree that a play is at its best on stage – after all, it’s written for it – but I prefer to read a play the first time around, much like I prefer to read the book before I see the movie.

But to each their own.

Big Mama and Big Daddy have two sons, Gooper and Brick. Gooper is married to Mae and they have five kids and another on the way. Brick, who is an alcoholic, is married to Margaret and they have no kids since he refuses to sleep with her. Big Daddy’s dying of cancer, but the kids haven’t told him and Big Mama, who both think that he’s fine. Gooper is intent on having his father leave him the plantation in his will since his brother is not capable of taking care of it. The play takes place on Big Daddy’s birthday and in the end, of course, everything comes out in the open.

I suck at synopses, so we’ll have to settle with that.

Having said that, I absolutely loved this play. This is the first I’ve read by Williams, and it really just blew me away how seemingly effortlessly he managed to pinpoint the exact issues (and flaws) each character had. Not straight away, of course (where’s the fun in that), but by delicately unravelling their histories and highlighting their impending dooms until they all lay dissected and exposed before me. I have an edition with two different third acts; apparently one was Williams’ original, and the other was the one that was performed on Broadway after his director suggested some changes. I preferred the original third act because it was clear and concise, whereas the Broadway version sort of muddled things up a bit. I don’t like that Big Daddy was brought back on stage (as it were) because I felt the significance of leaving him out, same as they were doing while discussing his illness, was lost with him coming back. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Big Daddy – he had some of the funniest lines in the play – I just didn’t see the necessity in bringing him back.

The other two people I liked were Brick and Margaret, for completely opposite reasons. Brick because he was so broken and so confused, and even though he had turned to the drink, he was still trying, I think, in his own little way. I know that it looks like he’s given up on everything, and maybe even he thinks he has, but there’s a tiny spark of hope/doubt left in him that made me like him. There’s a reason for his drinking that he’s trying to work himself out of, in a sense, and if he had truly given up, he’d just stop thinking about it.

Margaret, on the other hand, I liked because of her sheer determination. As she puts it herself:

“What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof? – I wish I knew... Just staying on it, I guess, as long as she can...” – p. 26

Brick, in his frustration later on pleads:

“Then jump off the roof, jump off it, cats can jump off roofs and land on their four feet uninjured!” – p. 31

But the thing is that she’s not looking to get away ‘uninjured’, she’s looking to keep what she has and will gladly suffer the consequences. This is actually made clearer in the Broadway third act, a bit too clear if you ask me; I like my subtlety.

I’m nearing the verge of essay territory here (and I still have so much to say), so I’m just going to conclude by saying that it’s been years since I studied English Lit at uni, and we never did Williams, so my interpretation may be way off base with general opinion, but I don’t really care. We make of things what we will. Williams himself said:

"The bird that I hope to catch in the net of this play is not the solution of one man’s psychological problems. I’m trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that cloudy, flickering, evanescent – fiercely charged! – interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis." – p. 75

And he does it so well.

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