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REVIEW : A Revival of 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' That Really Sizzles


MONROVIA — Judging from the small audience--17 patrons on opening night for an outstanding revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"--the Monrovia Center Theatre is Monrovia's best-kept secret.

Either that or area residents are asleep in their hammocks when it comes to supporting local theater.

"Damn Yankees," which opened the summer season at the theater, was competent but didn't begin to suggest the discipline and craft that director Roger Hampton has achieved with Tennessee Williams' hothouse drama of lust and turbulence in the Mississippi Delta.

Hampton has artfully blended all the elements. The set, the mood, the acting--in short, the specific world of the play--have been chiseled and polished to a point one rarely sees in community theater.

Rarer still, there's not a mediocre actor onstage. Each role has been exceptionally well cast. Well, almost. The show's three children are hard to take, despite allowing for the fact they're "no-neck monsters."

The story of a tottering marriage and family disarray on a rich Southern cotton plantation, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" was created in that post-"Streetcar Named Desire" period of the playwright's life, when Williams was blazing hot ("Summer and Smoke" and "The Rose Tattoo" preceded "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.")

The three memorable "Cat" characters--Maggie, Brick and Big Daddy--are hard to forget. (They were performed in the 1958 film by Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Burl Ives; the latter created Big Daddy in the 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway production, which co-starred Barbara Bel Geddes and Ben Gazzara.)

As the alcoholic Brick who hates his wife and doesn't sleep with her, Mark Sellers simmers and boils. An uncanny look-alike for a young Paul Newman, he reinforces memories of the movie. Whatever it is that distinguishes talented young actors, Sellers has it.

As for Maggie, Rhonda Carr catches the long-smoldering resentments of an unloved plantation princess, stalking about her airy sitting room in a black silk slip. Carr's Southern accent is pitch-perfect.

Bulky Patrick O'Brien is a florid, forceful Big Daddy, the family major-domo who is dying of cancer and doesn't know it. In his scenes with fussy Big Mama (the credible Robin Frizzell) and, particularly, the fierce confrontation with his son Brick, O'Brien is a blistering presence, with a nice, understated comedic touch.

As the greedy relatives seeking to take over the cotton spread and the "breeders" of the bratty kids, Rosemary Stevens and Terry Miller etch textured performances.

Just as important is the set design of Tom Osbrink, whose stage--with its pillared gallery, its modernistic bar and white wicker furniture--re-creates this patch of hell in the heat of a summer's night.

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," Monrovia Center Theatre, 120 E. Lemon Ave., Monrovia. Fridays and Saturdays, 8:15 p.m.; Sunday matinees, 2:15 p.m. Ends Aug. 30. $9-$10. (818) 303-9521. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

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