Gallery's 'Cat' lands on its feet

Marcus Larson/News-RegisterBrick (Lance Nuttman) talks with Maggie (Julia Sargent) about his deepening depression in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
Marcus Larson/News-Register
Brick (Lance Nuttman) talks with Maggie (Julia Sargent) about his deepening depression in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Pleasing because the ensemble gives a terrific performance, led by Julia Sargent as Maggie the Cat and directed by Ted Desel.

Difficult because that’s the nature of the play. Tennessee Williams means to make us squirm. He gives us a family that’s Dysfunctional with a capital D; a family whose members are tied together by mutual disgust, dislike and dissension. There’s love here, too, or at least the characters call it that; it’s a twisted, tortured kind of love.

You may pity these people; you may even understand them. But you won’t like them.

So why spend three hours with them? Because you’ll probably recognize these people — or recognize parts of yourself in parts of them. And in so doing, you have the chance to avoid some of their problems.

“Cat’ is set on the biggest, wealthiest plantation in Mississippi on the day the owner, Big Daddy (Ed Schoaps), turns 65. He and his wife of 40-plus years, Big Mama (Antonia Osterhout), have surrounded themselves with family: Successful eldest son Gooper (Webb Thomas), his brood mare wife Mae (Charity Benham), and their offspring (Naomi Benham, Mya Abeyta and Garner Wall); favorite son Brick (Lance Nuttman), a college athlete going soft, and his wife, Maggie, who have produced no potential heirs.

The patriarch and his wife are celebrating not just Big Daddy’s birthday, but also his good health: After fearing cancer for three years, he’s just received a clean bill of health. But the sons and daughters-in-law know the truth: He’s really terminal.

In most families, this would make the day bittersweet. In this one, it’s simply bitter.

Gallery’s show is well-cast and everyone fits his or her part well — especially Gooper and Mae, whose costumes and hairstyles immediately evoke a certain time and place.

A few actors particularly stand out.

In particularly, Sargent couldn’t be better as Maggie, a woman who knows what she wants and will do what she must to get it. She who calls herself a cat for several reasons, not the least because she’s dug her claws in and refuses to let go. (There are many, many references to “cat” and “cat on a hot tin roof” in the show; come on Tennessee, we get the metaphor already.)

Lance Nuttman is the perfect foil for Sargent in the role of Brick, her husband. Once a star athlete and more recently a so-so sportscaster, Brick now focuses on drinking as both a hobby and a lifestyle. As the show progresses, Nuttman’s nuanced performance changes as Brick would have changed over the course of the evening, suggesting that more than Brick’s ankle is broken.

Ed Schoaps does a fine job as Big Daddy — which is saying a lot, since he joined the cast two nights before the show opened to replace an actor who had to drop out suddenly. The whole cast (which also includes Norm Tognazzini, Walt Haight and Shanet Abeyta in small roles) deserves kudos for making the switch seemingly seamless.

Schoaps gives Big Daddy the mix of profane bluster and humanity: He has worked hard all his life, built something from nothing and taken care of those around him. Sure, Big Daddy is full of bravado right now, but he’s vulnerable. He’s surprisingly accepting of people, as well.

Gallery was lucky to find this Pentacle Theatre vet to play Big Daddy. Even though Schoaps carried a script on opening weekend, his performance can’t be faulted.

Besides, who else could pronounce “mendacity” with such scorn?

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