Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Apple Tree Theatre. In Tennessee Williams’s classic, a rich old man and his handsome young son both mistreat their wives–the former through casual vilification and the latter through stubborn indifference. Their ill-used consorts love them nevertheless. And over the course of a play traditionally staged as a simple diva showcase, director Eileen Boevers makes us love them too–or at least comprehend the choices that made them who they are.

Laura Scott Wade’s Maggie and Deanna Dunagan’s Big Mama are sterling representatives of the southern magnolias whose manipulation of their menfolk constitutes their only means of staving off poverty and social isolation. But even if these survivors drive the action in Williams’s exploration of land-grabbing family dynamics, Boevers refuses to allow Big Daddy and Brick to recede or devolve into stereotypes. Instead Robert Breuler and Mark L. Montgomery look beneath their characters’ surface weaknesses and hint at changes to come. As a result their long second-act confrontation is the most psychologically riveting and emotionally vital I’ve seen in recent years.

This Apple Tree production also finely orchestrates the ensemble’s occasional overlapping dialogue, and Jacqueline and Richard Penrod’s plantation-house set is museum accurate. But Breuler and Montgomery are the highlights of Boevers’s provocative interpretation.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Brosilow.