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THEATER:Williams' 'Cat' sizzles

November 03, 2006|By TOM TITUS

It's been a few years — try 50 — since Tennessee Williams was revered as the prince of American playwrights. But every so often, another local theater ventures into the world of his hot-blooded Southerners, often with mixed results.

Although Williams penned two plays that will forever reign as American classics — "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "The Glass Menagerie" — his personal favorite, and one for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, was "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

Movie audiences will remember the steamy (for its time) cinematic version with Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Burl Ives.

Beneath its surface theme of unrequited passion, "Cat" unsheathes its claws in a savage attack on what family patriarch Big Daddy refers to incessantly as "mendacity" — the lies we tell to each other and to ourselves.

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Big Daddy is dying — his family knows it — but no one has the courage to break the bad news to him.

The Costa Mesa Civic Playhouse has mounted an excellent revival of this rich and powerful exercise in frustration and avarice, offering some of the finest individual performances you'll see on a community theater stage all year.

Wrestling with Williams' maddeningly repetitive prose is not for the faint-hearted, but the playhouse's actors attack it with verve and gusto.

Director Frank Minano brings out the desperation suffered by each of Williams' major characters in this superior production, eliciting richly delineated interpretations and orchestrating incendiary conflict.

The overall mood is beautifully captured by Daniel Perezvertti's fragmented setting and "hot" lighting effects.

In the title role of Maggie the Cat, frustrated by her husband's repulsion of her sexual advances, Laura Lindahl expertly weaves a web of feline seduction, her voice dripping with Southern charm and innuendo.

Lindahl slinks through the play's first act — which she dominates — with a splendid mixture of desperation and determination.

Scotty Walker, as her sullen, crippled ex-jock husband, Brick, builds his performance gradually with each trip to the bar.

Walker fends off accusations of what may or may not have been a homosexual relationship with his now-deceased buddy with an anger that grows from a scowl to a growl as he faces off with his domineering father.

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