If I were to tell you to go see “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” IU Theatre’s latest drama that opened on November 8th, you might not know what to think. If you’re familiar with the play – or with the playwright Tennessee Williams’s work in general – you may have some idea of what you’re in for – Southern belles, Marlon Brando, etc. (And no, this particular production does not star Marlon Brando, I’m sorry.) But if you aren’t, you might just be focusing on that last word- “drama”. And before you start imagining an epic saga full of legendary battles, glorious heroes, and, well, iambic pentameter, let me tell you something else. Alcoholism. Infidelity. Sex, Death, and a secret that could destroy a marriage, all playing out in a wealthy Southern family whose greed, anger and jealousy could very well tear them apart. At its core, this play has more in common with an episode of reality television than a tragedy from Shakespeare. And that’s a very, very good thing.
Don’t get me wrong- I love a good Shakespearian tragedy more than I love a “Project Runway” marathon- well, a little bit more. But there’s something about Williams’ work that is just so, surprisingly, relatable. When we meet the wealthy Pollitt clan, they’re gathering on the plantation in the heart of the Mississippi Delta to celebrate the patriarch Big Daddy’s birthday. The women are dripping with diamonds, and the men drive Cadillacs and down whiskey like water. It’s the kind of family you’d only meet at a debutante ball, or a cotillion- and I don’t even know what a cotillion is. But the moment this family starts to argue, something magical happens. The Pollitts drop their sweet Southern gentility and start to very quickly resemble my family around the dinner table, albeit with a great deal more Southern drawl. The claws come out. In a big, loud, sassy way.
Brick and Maggie were the perfect couple, the Southern belle and the football star. Now Maggie wants nothing more than to reconnect with her husband- and I use “reconnect” in the most metaphorical way possible. Brick, however, is intent on drinking himself to death and won’t let Maggie forget that she’s the reason why. The two of them are already locked in battle when they hear that Big Daddy is ill, and that the aging patriarch hasn’t written a will. Suddenly they have to contend with a brother and sister-in-law who are after their share of the family fortune- and no dirty laundry is too dirty for this family to air. This is drama of a kind that you rarely see onstage, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t seen it before. If you ever wondered why Bravo never launched a “Real Housewives of the Mississippi Delta”, take note- Tennessee Williams got there first.
For a classic American drama, you’d never expect to find a play that’s so very… well, dramatic. The text is beautiful, but it’s barbed. Williams’ great strength as a playwright is that his characters are so realistic, so flesh and blood, but endowed with an almost mythical strength and struggle. He tempts them with something that they desperately want and introduces them to the person who possesses it. And then he lets them go to the mat over it. And we, the audience, wouldn’t have it any other way.
– Iris Dauterman, M.F.A. Playwright
(A new work by Iris Dauterman will be featured as a part of At First Sight: A repertory of new plays, opening March 28th, 2014)