November - December, 1987, the Alaska Repertory Theater's CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF played at the Fourth Avenue Theater in Anchorage, Alaska. James Morrison played the role of Brick. Kamella Tate played Maggie, and Mitchell Edmonds played Big Daddy.

You wait for him to come out. You wait for Brick, the troubled, manipulated anti-hero.

The play opens with actress Kamella Tate, who plays sensuous and catty Maggie, carrying on a conversation with a closed door. Behind the door is her husband, Brick. While her dialogue is engaging, the stage seems empty until Brick walks out. Then it fills and unfolds.

All eyes are riveted on the handsome, bare-chested blonde actor who bears a passing resemblance to Paul Newman, who immortalized the role in the 1958 film version of the play. Like Newman, Anchorage's Brick is lean. His face is fine-boned; his eyes are blue.

The actor is James Morrison. If he looks familiar to some in the audience, it's because he is a local boy. Raised in Anchorage, he's back starring in his second major role with the Alaska Rep, the theater that gave him his start a decade ago.

As Brick, Morrison is mesmerizing to watch as he limps along, his right leg in a cast (part of the role), one arm drooped over a crutch, the other clutching a tumbler full of liquor. He doesn't say much. Doesn't need to.

His boredom with the non-stop chatter of his wife is painfully apparent, his disenchantment with life obvious. Finally, desperate to cut his unforgiving silence, Maggie cries out, "You look so cool, so cool, so enviably cool."

This CAT unfolds entirely in the guest bedroom of a Southern mansion, as the family of an aging millionaire gather to celebrate his 65th birthday and to begin their battle for his estate.

All, that is, except the favored son Brick. Brick has been shattered by his best friend's suicide and the drunken confession made before he died. Brick has abdicated his role in the household in favor of the bottle.

His wife, Maggie, knowing "you can be young without money, but you can't be old without it," has taken his place in the fray, but she's crippled by his indifference to her life and, especially, to her. Tennessee Williams' usual themes of dissolution and repressed homosexuality are here, but the playwright's disturbingly keen eye for the lies and undercurrents in all relationships makes the play's revelations universal.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the Rep production is how quickly Morrison's Brick takes over the focus from Kamella Tate's Maggie, who is usually the center of the play, at least initially. Here, before the first act is half over, Brick has won our interest and the beginnings of our sympathy.

Part of that is due to Morrison's stunning performance. Brick is a difficult, complex character, and Morrison makes the role utterly his own. Instead of a cold, heartless bastard who takes pleasure in his cruelties, Morrison's Brick is a man driven to brutality by his own self-loathing. Morrison lets us glimpse what's left of the man underneath the alcoholic mask, and what we see is enough for us to understand him.

Tate also gives us a fully fleshed, believable character, but one who lacks the kind of fiery determination that would maker her fascinating to watch. Instead, Tate brings a tomboyish aspect to the role, a kind of endearing gracelessness that gradually disappears as she grows from insecurity to strength. It's an interesting interpretation, one that makes Maggie more approachable than the conniving, feline twist other actresses have given the role. But its oddly jarring when the play's other characters make their constant references to her as "Maggie the Cat." Most of the time, she seems far more coltish than catlike.

However, this one minor quibble about characterization is more than offset by the pleasure of watching an otherwise well-constructed production.

As director Traister himself has said, there are reasons why they call certain works "classics," and in CAT, the Rep has a must-see production of a must-see play. Synopsized from an interview by Kim Rich and a review by Elizabeth Pulliam, both for Anchorage Daily News

Click Here for a James Morrison interview about Cat On A Hot Tin Roof 1987

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