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…may throw the first stone, to paraphrase a Biblical injunction. I still remember the “racy” movie posters, featuring Elizabeth Taylor, when this play was first issued as a movie in the 1950’s. I neither saw the movie, nor watched a production of the play. Thanks to a recent reading of The Glass Menagerie (Penguin Modern Classics) I decided that I needed to read more of this quintessential American (and Southern) playwright. “Cat…” was first produced in 1955, and would win the Pulitzer Prize.

The play is set in the largest mansion in the very heart of the rich farmland of the Mississippi delta, near Clarksville. There are three acts, but the time period is continuous. ‘Big Daddy’ is now 65, and owner of the plantation. He is still “rough-hewed,” having once been the overseer of the plantation that was owned by two “sisters” (gays), Jack Straw and Peter Ochello. Homosexuality, a “racy” topic in the 1950’s, is a theme throughout the play. ‘Big Daddy’s’ wife is, sure enough, ‘Big Mama.’ They have two sons, Brick and Gooper, who are each married, respectively, to Maggie and Mae. Each of the women have societal pretenses, one raised in Memphis, and the other Nashville. Gooper is the oldest, and with Mae has five “no-neck” children, with a sixth on the way. Brick and Mae are childless. He is also a serious alcoholic, morose over his lost college athletic “glory days,” and his relationship with his buddy, Skipper, now dead. The reason for Brick and Maggie’s childlessness – that he will not sleep with her – and his probable homosexual relationship with Skipper is developed as the play progresses. ‘Big Mama’ frankly criticizes Maggie for failing to perform her “bed duties,” and keep her son happy. They all live in the mansion house, and are jockeying for the inheritance. It is a “heady” mix.

Mendacity, greed, sexual longing are all themes woven throughout the play. About half this Kindle edition contains various essays of commentary, the most meaningful one from Tennessee Williams himself. The influence and relationship of Williams with the director Elia Kazan is described. I even learned that this play was the favorite of Fidel Castro, who greeted Williams on their first meeting with the exclamation: “Oh, that Cat!” The play’s evolution and various versions are discussed (perhaps more than most people need to know), and an entirely different third act is also included.

Reading, or watching a performance of Williams’ plays is an important part of the “curriculum” of any student of American drama – whatever the age of that student. 5-stars for “The Cat.”
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 January 2015
Tennessee Williams' play, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" won the Pulitzer Prize and Drama Critics Circle Award in 1955. Directed by Elia Kazan the play ran for nearly 700 performances on Broadway and starred Barbara Bel Geddes as Margaret, Ben Gazarra as Brick, and Burl Ives as Big Daddy.
I reread "Cat" as part of an ongoing project to read and review Tennessee Williams' plays. John Lahr's biography, "Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh" (2014) inspired my project.

"Cat" was the first Tennessee Williams play I saw many years ago while still in high school. I was deeply moved by the production, undoubtedly without knowing why. Later that year, when each member in our English class had to do an oral report on an American play, I did Williams' "The Glass Menagerie". "Cat" was not an option. The teacher made clear that she disliked most of Williams, including "Cat". In reading the reviews here on Amazon, I am both impressed and puzzled that this adult-themed and difficult play has found its way into the high school curriculum. Most high school readings are made to be disliked.

The play is set in a mansion in the Mississippi Delta and, dramatically, takes place over the course of a few hours in real time. The story is raw, passionate, and extreme. Williams writes with poetry and lyricism. The play involves sexually dysfunctional couples, unmasking character, and a family fight over a large pending inheritance. Of the three primary characters, Brick, Maggie, and "Big Daddy" Pollitt, Maggie wins the playwright's and the reader's heart. Maggie is a fighter -- a cat in more than one sense. Her husband, Brick, 27, a former athlete and sports announcer
has deteriorated into withdrawal and alcoholism and into a sexual disgust and rejection of Maggie. Maggie, lonely, on edge, and frustrated, wants to regain her husband's love, restore him to health, and have a child, both for her own emotional needs and in order to secure Brick a share of the inheritance from the impending death of Brick's father, the fabulously wealthy Big Daddy. Brick is withdrawn into himself and blames Maggie for the death of his friend Skipper with whom Maggie had a brief affair. Big Daddy is dying of cancer, as Brick, Maggie, and the rest of the family which includes Brick's older brother, Gooper, a successful lawyer, and his wife are aware. Big Daddy and his wife Big Mama have initially been lied to about the nature of the illness. The heart of the play is a stunning confrontation between Brick and his father in the second act of the play in which parent and son try to talk to one another and in the process force each other to face reality about themselves without comforting illusions.

The resolution of the play in the final act provoked a great deal of controversy. At Kazan's request, Williams' rewrote the third act in the version that was performed on Broadway and that undoubtedly contributed to the play's success. The major substantive difference is in the portrayal of Brick. In Williams' initial version, Brick does not change character after the confrontation with Big Daddy. In the revised version, Brick becomes a participant with Maggie in her lie that the couple have resumed sexual relations and that Maggie is pregnant with Brick's child. The revised play thus ends more positively than did Williams' initial draft. At the time and for the rest of his life, Williams was ambivalent about the ending. He agreed with much of what Kazan said about the development of the play and relished the commercial success. But Williams couldn't shake the feeling that he had sold out. Most printed versions of the play include both the original third act and the revised version performed on Broadway in 1955.

Much of the play deals with homosexuality and with the wide condemnation of homosexual activities in the 1950s. The themes of the play -- loneliness, sexual frustration, facing death, being honest with oneself, and more -- amply survive the changes in social mores that have occurred subsequently to the play. Williams carefully distinguished between the particular incidents of "Cat" and its more universal themes. In an illuminating stage direction for the climactic moment of Act 2 of the play, Williams discussed Brick's relationship with Skipper as the source of his, and Maggie's troubles. Williams wrote:

"The thing they're discussing, timidly and painfully on the side of Big Daddy, fiercely, violently on Brick's side, is the inadmissible thing that Skipper died to disavow between them. The fact that if it existed it had to be disavowed to 'keep face' in the world they lived in, may be at the heart of the 'mendacity' that Brick drinks to kill his disgust with. It may be the root of his collapse. Or maybe it is only a single manifestation of it, not even the most important. The bird that I hope to catch in the net of this play is not the solution of one man's psychological problem. I'm trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that cloudy, flickering, evanescent -- fiercely charged! -- interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis."

The characters are a mix of feelings and of both good and bad. Maggie is tough, raw, a climber and a lover with an indomitable, fiery will to live.

Lahr's biography is an excellent source of information about the interpretation of "Cat", about Williams' and Kazan's views about the script, and about the play's staging and reception. Lahr writes succinctly and perceptively that the play captures the "internal debate" "between the dead heart and the outcrying heart." The play invites deeply personal responses from its readers and audiences.

Robin Friedman
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on 11 December 2012
For many years I only read plays, not novels. I re-read Cat On a Hot Tin Roof and remembered why. It is fabulous to have every life emotion condensed into one play. Family feuds, tortured pasts, anger, guilt, love, jealousy, envy, revenge, sorry, sadness, lust...ALL packed into one incredible play that EVERYONE should read at some point in their life.

Even if you saw the wonderful film with Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman - you still need to read this, to see it in print - you won't be disappointed.
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on 25 March 2011
An excellent paperback. Has some interesting notes to warm you up and at the end of the play you could also read through the "Alternative" third scene. There are also some very interesting notes at the end. the only sad thing is that as soon as I had put the book down I heard on the news that Elizabeth Taylor had died :(
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on 19 July 2009
Awesome revision book on what I thought was quite a boring play at first and found hard to read. The York Notes on Cat On A Hot Tin Roof provided a great insight on the different themes & issues presented in the play and made it far easier to understand and digest in time for my English exam. By the time I had finished with it I realized Cat On A Hot Tin Roof isn't so bad after all and is actually a very entertaining and interesting look on family relationships.

If you're thinking it might help you revise, buy it, it really does!
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on 26 September 2001
A master with words and theatricality, Williams' play is excellent for dramatic critique practice. Truly draws you into the lives of the characters involved. Imperative for any theatre major and a wonderful immersion for those just beginning to explore the genius of Williams' work.
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on 3 May 2014
I enjoyed the book and found the author's notes that he didn't like to provide neat endings interesting. The traits of the characters can be related to nowadays and is a true classic relevant today.
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on 27 November 2015
Slightly hard work...yes it's good, but as far as I can see not a lot like the film starring Paul Newman and Liz Taylor which was of course brilliant, and a big hit.
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on 16 July 2013
the text itself was highly defased a hudge persentage of it was coved in pink highlighter which made it difficult to make notes for myself. the story line is fantastic and controversial for the time however i find it a great read and i am sure a theatre preformance would be just as amazing.
tennessee williams is truly a fantastic playwright
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on 20 July 2016
Love and loathing in the deep south and on a birthday too... brilliant characters observation and acerbic wit from a true great of 20th century play writing
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