Review: Tharp, Pruden revisit ‘Cat’ for TAG

Jun. 27, 2013 | 0 Comments

BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

Jim Tharp and Jo Pruden have played husband and wife six times on the local stage over the last 25 years. One of their early milestone performances was Pruden as Big Mama and Tharp as Big Daddy in Diamond Head Theatre’s 1991 production of Tennessee Williams’ ever-popular classic, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

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‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’

Presented by the Actors’ Group

» Where: The Actors’ Group Theatre, 650 Iwilei Rd.
» When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through July 14
» Cost: $20 (discounts available; $12 for all seats on Thursdays)
» Info: 722-6941 or www.taghawaii.net

Almost twenty-two years later, the pair revisit those roles for The Actors’ Group. A Pruden/Tharp double-bill would make any show a must-see event on the strength of their previous work together, and they live up to those high expectations with their balanced performances in “Cat” at TAG.

Williams’ story is a study in greed, secrecy, sexual desire and “mendacity” (the tendency to lie) in the American South. Big Daddy Pollitt is a self-made multi-millionaire in the mid-1950s, a time when a million dollars was still a lot of money; he also owns 28,000 acres of the best farmland in the Mississippi Delta.

Big Daddy has been in failing health for several years and the family knows that he does not have a valid will. That fact has his two daughters-in-law scheming non-stop to ensure that their side of the family will the one that gets control of his assets.

Older brother Gooper (Tim Jeffryes), also known within the family as “Brother Man,” is a successful attorney. He and his wife, Mae (Karen Valasek), also known as “Sister Woman,” are expecting their fifth child. In short, a solid responsible professional and plenty of heirs. However, Gooper feels that Big Daddy and Big Mama always liked his younger brother better — and he’s 100% right.

The favored younger brother, Brick (Scott Francis Russell), a sports star in high school, is an aimless 30-year-old alcoholic. He refuses to have sex with his wife, Maggie (Lauren Murata), or make an effort to secure his claim to the plantation.

The first half of Act One belongs to Murata. She plays Maggie as aggressive, predatory and hard-as-nails in trying to get a rise from Brick; she is a competent co-star in Russell as the passive/aggressive husband. The tension builds as other characters cycle through the couple’s bedroom. Gooper and Sister Woman know all about their rivals’ marital woes; Sister Woman isn’t above taunting them about it.

Maggie (Lauren Murata), foreground, and Brick (Scott Francis Russell) co-star in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" at The Actors Group. (Courtesy TAG)

Maggie (Lauren Murata), foreground, and Brick (Scott Francis Russell) co-star in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at The Actors’ Group Theatre. (Courtesy TAG)

Once Big Daddy arrives on the scene almost everything revolves around Tharp and his riveting portrayal of the ailing patriarch. None of these people are “nice” — even the local preacher is blatantly angling for a generous bequest when Big Daddy kicks the bucket — but in Tharp’s performance Big Daddy becomes the most sympathetic and honorable figure in the bunch.

A scene where Big Daddy reaches out to Brick is beautifully played by Tharp and Russell alike.

Jeffryes gets well-earned time in the dramatic spotlight after intermission; Gooper tries to get Big Mama to sign some documents that will favor his claim to the estate while simultaneously trying to keep his wife, who is in full attack mode, from pushing so hard that she blows the opportunity.

Russell and Murata do highlight reel work in Act Two as well.

In recent years, Pruden has been most visible playing waspish or manipulative women — her performance opposite Tharp in Manoa Valley Theatre’s production of “August: Osage County” in 2011, for example. This time Tharp is the one playing a ruthless and manipulative character while Pruden plays a weaker and more vulnerable soul. The switch from, say, that MVT show, also makes their partnership here a special moment in island theater.

Director Dennis Proulx is on the spot as TAG’s last-minute replacement for the late Glenn Cannon. Cannon had done most of the casting by the time he was hospitalized earlier this year — Pruden and Tharp were cast over a year ago — and he had other key roles cast before he was hospitalized for the last time.

What Cannon would have done with the story will forever remain unknown, but Proulx’s take on it does justice to Williams’ story nonetheless.
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John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at jberger@staradvertiser.com.

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