PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; Dividing the Plantation, With Scarlett Claws

By Harry Haun
18 Jan 2013

In this tug-of-war over the Pollitt wealth — while first-born Gooper and his white-trash wife, Mae, are marshalling forces like sonofabitches, her character Margaret is not only holding up her end but also her hard-drinking hubby, Brick, who's after that elusive click that will at last allow him to forget the affair she had with his friend, Skipper, who committed suicide when he couldn't quite rise to the occasion.

All but two of the principals Ashford hired have done some musical theatre — a consideration that eluded him until it was called to his attention. "I hadn't thought of that," he admitted, "but I think a great actor's a great actor. I think one thing we maybe should do is shake it up here and not say, 'Oh, no, she's a musicals person so we're going to have them do that.' I do think an actor's an actor, and I hope people think a director's a director. If you're good at those skills, you get an opportunity to do both. I'm thrilled I got this chance, and I thank Stuart Thompson [the lead producer]."

His affinity with Williams was inevitable, he figured. "I'm a Southern boy. I grew up in West Virginia. A lot of people don't think that that's Southern, but, believe me, it's Southern. My mom's here tonight. Go talk to her. Early on, I just seemed to understand what Tennessee's life was like — what it's like to be a gay man in the South."


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One small signature: this is probably the first time the "no-neck monsters" form a diagonal chorus line to sing their birthday greetings to their grandfather, but he covered his trail with some ragged choreography for them. "That was the point. We wanted these kids to be kids, and I really felt like they should feel like they're Mae and Gooper's. I thought that was important. The fact that they could sing or dance was so secondary. It was just that they had to be good little actors and had to feel like they were a part of this family because they're the next generation. That's what Mae and Gooper are putting forward to run Big Daddy's 28,000 acres. I felt like it was so important — Big Daddy said, 'They're all little Maes and Goopers.'"

The ghost of Skipper which haunted the play's previews — and the Broadway message boards — has vanished without a trace, and without an apology from Ashford.

"It was just something we were trying. It felt like Skipper was such a huge part of the play. Every single character in this play talks about Skipper, and I thought it would be really useful for the company — and the audience, maybe — to see who Skipper was so everyone thinks of the same person, and I thought it was very important to give the image of Skipper as not effete but as another Brick. "I have to say it was something from Day One that we were all working with. You can ask anyone within the production, in previews the thing we worked on the most and changed the most was Skipper — where he came in, where he went out, how he was lit, what he did, how long it was there, how short it was there — trying to gauge just right, just so.

"What we decided in the end — or what I decided in the end — was, given the reality of the love triangle involving Maggie and Brick and Skipper, to simplify an extremely complicated relationship. The relationship of Brick to Skipper or Maggie to Skipper was an extremely complicated one back in 1951. Today, there's something about putting a guy up there and you go, 'Okay, Brick, just choose. You want Skipper, or you want Maggie.' That simplifies something that was complicated, and that's why, in the end, I felt that it was better for the play not to see Skipper."