The current Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play from 1955, features Scarlett Johansson in the electrifying role of Maggie. Such star power pumps up the production’s popular appeal, despite its mixed critical reviews and the fact that New York audiences had another occasion to view the play just five years ago — with an all-black cast.
The dramatic classic remains a favorite on stages across the country, with or without twists on the original, and without actors known for looking hot in a body suit in The Avengers. Many other Maggies have taken their cue from the midcentury version of provocative: Elizabeth Taylor in the 1958 movie adaptation. Liz and Scarlett — both are tough acts to follow, yet what ambitious young actress would not like to pay Maggie?
That’s what Melissa Lourie is finding out. The director of the Middlebury Actors Workshop has already held auditions in New York for the role (and others in the play) and is fielding Vermont contenders this coming week. MAW will stage Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in October at Midd’s Town Hall Theater. The instructions in a recent MAW e-newsletter say: “Bring a 1-3 minute monologue and be prepared to read from the play.” The company’s website offers only this guidance: “Beautiful, sensual, smart — 25-35.”
Lourie, who will direct the play, admits it’s difficult to cast such an iconic role as Maggie. Plus, she says, “It’s a huge role — the volume of lines is formidable.” So onstage experience and competence are de rigueur. She adds, “You can’t really fudge the age … and she’s got to be sexy and good-looking.”
Lourie also says that “any serious actress of that age is usually living somewhere else trying to make a go of [theater].” Nevertheless, she’s opening up the opportunity to actors who have chosen to live in Vermont. And, based on previous MAW productions alone, the state is hardly lacking in talent.
Aside from beauty and youth, what does it take to be Maggie? “Her dilemma is universal,” says Lourie. “She’s trying to make someone love her who has shut her out. She has so many tactics and ways to get through to Brick.”
Brick — played by Paul Newman in the movie — is Maggie’s husband, a handsome former football player drowning in alcohol. She’s trying to win back his affections while also finagling an inheritance from Big Daddy, the patriarch of this Southern clan. It’s a gothic story of greed, deceit, passion and family dysfunction. And it’s likely to bring a bit of steam to Middlebury’s stage in October. And, in one way or another, to local schools. Lourie says MAW is presenting stage classics for its fall shows in order to accommodate curriculum tie-ins. “My interest is to keep this education connection going,” she says.
Lourie suggests she has Vermont actors in mind for the roles of Brick and Big Daddy, and possibly for that of his wife, Big Mama. But for Maggie and the remainder of the cast, she says, “I’m not really making a decision until I see the people up here.”
Auditions for "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," Tuesday, February 26, 6 to 9 p.m.; and Wednesday, February 27, 6 to 9 p.m., at Town Hall Theater in Middlebury. Cast selections will be announced by the end of February. Shows October 17 to 20. Info, 233-5255.