By Robert W. Plyler
CHAUTAUQUA - Human nature, in its strengths and its weaknesses, is the central theme at the Bratton Family Theater this week as the Chautauqua Theater Company performs their opening production for 2013, Tennessee Williams' searing ''Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.''
The play centers on the Pollitt Family, who live on a huge plantation in Mississippi in 1955. The heads of the family are called Big Daddy and Big Mama. They are the parents of two adult sons, Brick and Gooper. The official cause of the family joining together is to celebrate Big Daddy's 65th birthday, although in fact, the younger generation have learned that Big Daddy is suffering from cancer, and hasn't long to live. In typical 1950s style, no one has told the man himself, nor his wife, the bad news.
Brick is a professional athlete and has always been the favorite son. He is married to a sexy young wife, Maggie. Gooper is married to Mae, and they are the parents of five children, with a sixth on the way. Both wives are determined to do whatever it takes to make their individual husband the main heir, if not the only heir to Big Daddy's millions.
Maggie is beautiful and quite prepared to use her beauty in any way in which it might work, to catch Big Daddy's attention. Brick has always been his father's favorite, but incidents in his life have led him to no longer care what his father thinks, nor what Maggie does, making motivating him her principal need.
Director Lisa Rothe pulls off the difficult feat of making the audience care about multiple characters who no longer care about themselves, and she deserves enormous credit for how well she has focused on both their humanity and their inhumanity.
Guest artists Harris Yulin and Candy Buckley powerfully anchored the production. Yulin's Big Daddy is bluntly cruel to the members of his family, and we believe he can and will say almost anything that will get them to shut up and leave him alone. Buckley's Big Mama toys with genuine affection for her cruel husband and a visible appreciation for the rank in which he has placed her with his money, even if he is often dismissive and cruelly direct in his interaction with her.
Peter Mark Kendall and Carly Zien both wear great good looks comfortably, like a well-tailored garment. Both move and sit in such a way that we understand that they have always been good looking, have always been favored and sought after by others, and now, they no longer care how they look.
Mallory Portney has a genuine gift, as Mae, to involve the audience in her ruthlessness to get her father-in-law's money and land. She was nicely supported by Matthew Raich, as Gooper. Cheers to the young actors who portrayed their children, Emma Dow, Emma Jane Stephens, and Jackson Stellhorn.
Scenic Designer Lee Savage, builds Maggie and Brick's bedroom out of open doors and windows, demonstrating how easily other members of their family intrude and walk into their lives, and also out of row upon row of liquor bottled. The hundreds of bottles demonstrate Brick's abandonment of his life, to hide in the bottle.
Powerful, serious drama in a rare treasure in our county, and those who long for it will find it beautifully presented at Chautauqua, through Sunday.