Catatonic

''Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'' at Kennedy Center;''Radiant Abyss'' at Woolly Mammoth; ''World Goes 'Round'' at Roundhouse

by Jolene Munch
Published on June 24, 2004, 12:00am | Comments

Yes, it's a play about many things -- many people, many ideas, many themes. Big Daddy is dying of cancer on his 65th birthday and there's his party to attend to. There's Maggie's wanton, pleading lust. There's the hopeless hope of a self-deceiving Big Mama and the prowling eyes and attentive ears of greedy in-laws hoping to cash in on Big Daddy's grim prognosis. And then there's Brick.


Just like the clay building blocks of a sturdy southern house, Tennessee Williams built up his struggling, tormented soul with all the power and magnetism of the enigmatic male figure as his solid foundation. Yes, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is conclusively Brick's story.

  But in Mark Lamos' production at the Kennedy Center, you'd never know it.

Jeremy Davidson definitely looks the part -- he's quite handsome, and his muscular dancer physique implicates the fading glory of a one-time star athlete. But his Brick is wooden and even a bit catatonic. And that's too bad. Thankfully, stage veteran George Grizzard is absolute perfection as the plantation owner who suddenly realizes his mortality and must come to terms with his finite power, and Dana Ivey is hilarious as his fatuous, devoted wife. There is a crisp, sparkling chemistry between the pair.

As Maggie, Mary Stuart Masterson slinks and saunters around the stage in the lengthy first act like a tentative kitten. Her gorgeous, shapely feline is more tame than feral, more domestic than wild. (Note to Masterson: no matter how many times you stare into an invisible mirror and pronounce that you are Maggie the Cat, you must first be Maggie the Cat before you can convince an audience.) Although she works in a few bright moments later in the third act, as she convinces a troubled Big Daddy that she will soon birth her own litter, Masterson's Maggie ultimately goes astray.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
To 7/4
Kennedy Center
$25-$75
202-467-4600

Williams' southern drama about lost dreams and steeled optimism in the face of darkness has more or less survived its numerous incarnations since its 1955 Broadway debut, but perhaps it's time to put this kitty to sleep. Let's face it, Williams' script hasn't aged well, and although Lamos directs the 1974 version that was revised with the assistance of that production's director, Michael Kahn, the storyline still suffers from bland theatrics that rely too heavily upon one actress to portray the sexpot Maggie and one actor to fill in the shoes of a restless patriarch.

Unfortunately Lamos doesn't do enough to illuminate the devastating complacency of such a privileged house in the middle of the Mississippi Delta. It isn't enough to affect a pretty set (courtesy of John Lee Beatty) with pretty actors (courtesy of good heredity) and hope for the best. It is the director's inherent responsibility to draw out those characteristics which make Williams' core group so desperately volatile. But Lamos does little to invoke Williams' weak, beautiful people who won't give up gracefully.


Something's amiss at the Garden of Paradise Cultural Oasis, or at least Erin Skidmore thinks so. The heady real estate maven of Winston-Salem, North Carolina enlists the help of her dunce go-to boy Steve Enloe to conspire against the cult-like church next door along with his sweet girl-next-door Ina. Never mind that Steve cheats on Ina with Erin, or that Erin has no idea how to exterminate the congregation of righteous savants whom she believes adopt violent rules that force women into submission -- that's precisely what Steve is good for. After all, before becoming security officer of the strip mall that houses Erin's office space, he was a bona fide Orkin man. And never mind that something is also markedly amiss with presumably innocent Ina. Against all odds, the haphazard scheme that the harebrained trio has hatched will somehow, someway come to fruition. It's a kooky, spiritual, irreverently philosophical expedition.

The Radiant Abyss
To 7/18
Woolly Mammoth
$24-$39
202-393-3939

In other words, Angus MacLachlan's The Radiant Abyss is a very Woolly play.

MacLachlan's ultra-contemporary, ultra-witty script was commissioned by Woolly and is receiving its world premiere and his fantastic, pushy dialogue coupled with director Lou Jacob's frenetic pacing leaves you in hysterics -- that is, until the Abyss' last few moments of incoherent drivel.

It's a shame MacLachlan couldn't devise a way to wrap up his wicked little plot, which is driven purely by his disturbingly real south-suburban language and three outstanding character performances. Janis Dardaris is simply fabulous as the boss-lady who harbors her own personal baggage while playing the professional martyr, and Jeremy Beazlie gives a riotous physical performance as Steve, the spastic liar whose cellular ring tone is set to "Sweet Child of Mine. " But Dana Acheson stakes her claim to the most dynamic of the threesome as the not-so-naïve girlfriend who divides her time between an Eckerd photo lab and making copies at Kinko's. Her Ina is full of strange, idiosyncratic conflict as she pours over her "Here I am, this-is-my-life type stuff. "

MacLachlan's intentionally subconscious connection between Erin's ability to manipulate and control Steve and Ina and the church-cult's reign over its body of members is not nearly demonstrative enough to make its potential impact. Luckily for us, while the playwright keeps busy kicking around metaphysical ideas of cataclysmic proportions, he throws a hearty load of self-deprecating laughs into his Abyss for good measure.


From the moment Sherri L. Edelen ascends center stage, quietly croons the evening's opening title song there are expectations of grandeur from The World Goes ‘Round. After all, this is a thirty-song cabaret extravaganza of powerful numbers from one of the most prolific duos of American music theatre, John Kander and Fred Ebb, and Edelen's rendition sparkles like a shining jewel at the top of the show. The remainder of the evening should be just as exciting, delighting, and overflowing with spectacular musical theatricality. It doesn't even come close.

The World Goes ‘Round
To 7/3
Round House
$29-$39
240-644-1100

Patdro Harris and Jerry Whiddon's World is a hit-and-miss collection of familiar tunes that suffer from hokey staging and musical scenes featuring spots of terribly awkward, uncomfortable choreography. Their production succeeds only when the cast of singer-actors is allowed to vocalize, harmonize, and realize the thrilling music of Kander and Ebb instead of marking Harris' cheesy pseudo-dance numbers. Bob Fosse's wrists, elbows, and knees just may be rolling six feet below.

Although there are a few moments of sheer musical joy (a particularly jazzy arrangement of "Cabaret " and an absolutely hysterical version of "Class "), Harris and Whiddon repeatedly choose the wrong singers for the wrong numbers, resulting in strange direction choices, such as Will Gartshore's rather buoyant "Kiss of the Spider Woman " and a horrible rendition of "All That Jazz " from Mary Jayne Raleigh.

  Still, there is Edelen. Her heartbreaking "My Coloring Book " outclasses any tawdry pieces of the puzzle, where Edelen carries an unprepared audience away on a lush musical journey to places unexpected and divine. And it's her uncompromising, dynamic interpretations that make Harris and Whiddon's World spin 'round.