Huron Playhouse offers a tempestuos, convincing 'Cat'

HURON — (Merriam-Webster) Mendacity: Lack of honesty.
There’s plenty of mendacity to fill “the 28,000 acres of the richest land this side of the Valley Nile” in Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” set in the south in 1954 on a plantation.
But you won’t uncover untruth in Huron Playhouse’s laudable production, on-stage at the McCormick School through Friday.
Honest performances bless the powerful production of the steamy, stormy, lyrical, symbolic and complex play by the late Williams, one of the world’s most lyrical playwrights.
Williams, who wrote from personal experiences, would be happy with the production, including the set, designed stately by Dominic DeRiso, with enough elegant set pieces to suggest a huge mansion and a non-realistic backdrop, to complement Williams’ lyrical style.
Director Jennifer Wertz has mined the play, with much success, for all the longing, anger, desperation, frustration, hope and hopelessness within Williams’ words.
Williams disagreed with the play’s original director on some issues, but the two concurred the sometimes spiteful “Maggie The Cat” should be sympathetic to an audience.
Without a doubt, a fast-talking Janina Koehl Bradshaw has a sharp, commanding, even spiteful voice and determined aura as Maggie. With Bradshaw’s arms folded or hands on her hip and standing upright, you know Maggie will make her crippled, alcoholic husband Brick give in to her desire for companionship and a child.
But an authentic sounding longing and pain also fills this “feline’s” voice. You’ll feel for her.
Time is of the essence in “Roof,” symbolized by clock chimes which carry just the right ominous tone. The seconds are quickly ticking away before Big Daddy Pollitt dies of the cancer that’s invaded his body. If Brick doesn’t agree to have a child with Maggie soon, the couple may lose out on their inheritance. And Brick will have failed his father in producing a grandchild from his side of the family.
Adding to the explosive situation are Big Daddy’s other son, Gooper (a bitter Zachery Pletcher) and his wife, Mae (a sarcastic, hateful Grace Wipfli), who are in competition for the inheritance.
While cancer is poisoning Big Daddy’s body, despite one of the lies told to him and his wife, Big Momma, alcohol is wreaking havoc on Brick’s mind. A relationship with a male friend and the aftermath, the details of which aren’t entirely clear, have rendered Brick hopeless
This company’s strongest moments come in the third act, during which a heavy storm outside mirrors the tempestuous situation in the household. Credit sound designer Carlos Medina and lighting designer Tori Mays for realistic storm sounds and flickering lighting.
The sense of shock is particularly palpable in Big Momma (a hysterical Sydney Rose Hover, who has completely and seamlessly changed her demeanor from cheerful and loving). She’s gone into a near dream-like trance.
Big Momma’s other half, (Evan A. LaChance), has a rough demeanor as the dying man, who drips vitriol and hatred, especially toward his wife.
Ian Roberto Turnwald looks mostly like a spaced-out, blank-faced zombie as Brick, but is like a ticking time bomb. Mention his late friend, Skipper, and he explodes. Turnwald’s performance as the quiet, zoned out, apathetic Brick serves as contrast to Bradshaw’s catty, loud Maggie and LaChance’s explosive, vulgar Big Daddy.
During one scene, Brick says he drinks because he’s tired of mendacity and Big Daddy, obviously, can’t stand it either.
But one act of mendacity, at the play’s end, imbues Big Daddy with hope, even after he’s learned he’s dying. He’s falsely told Maggie is pregnant.
But the “feline” lures Brick to bed. The indomitable woman will see to it that he impregnates her.
This production is strong, save for a distracting scene on a grassy area in front of the main scene playing out on stage.
But if only director Wertz had Turnwald, as Brick, move slowly but surely toward the bed as the lights dimmed, the production would be even stronger.

Aaron Krause is a Reflector staff writer. Reach him at akrause@norwalkreflector.com

IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
WHEN: 8 p.m. through Friday
WHERE: McCormick School, 325 Ohio St., Huron
HOW MUCH: $22 for adults, $20 for senior citizens, $18 for students and groups of 10-19 and $15 for groups of 20 and more. Call 419-433-4744.