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Themes of repressed homosexuality in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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It's a bit of fortuitous timing to have Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof produced in the Triangle so soon after the passing of Amendment 1. The play's themes of repressed homosexuality in the Deep South, already inflammatory upon its 1955 premiere, seem all the more pointed and poignant in the modern day.

Theatre in the Park's production, directed by Ira David Wood IV, offers a particular showcase for Rob Rainbolt as the unhappy Brick, the ex-football player reliant on both a literal crutch and the booze he's constantly swilling (the two intermissions might be to give the poor man a chance to go to the bathroom). He's all seething frustration throughout the first act before he explodes at his hot-to-trot wife Maggie the Cat (Sarah Bousquet), then heartbreaking as he confesses the reason for his boozing and impotence to Big Daddy (John T. "Jack" Hall) in the second act.

Hall avoids the larger-than-life accent that has given birth to many a Big Daddy parody in film and TV, instead playing toward the character's new lease on life and understanding of Brick's confusion. There's also strong work from Bousquet as Maggie, and fine performances from the ensemble (including the adorable young actors Annabel Bloom and Noah Daniel Zevin, as the cowboys-and-Indians-playing children).

Though Cat on a Hot Tin Roof can be a bit exhausting, in terms of both its emotional content and its length (the play runs about three hours with the two intermissions), it wrests plenty of power from Williams' writing. The strongest passages come from the second of the play's three acts, when Brick and Big Daddy have their confrontation. Here's a scene that's about a son confessing his anger, fear and disgust that he might have homosexual inclinations, and a father who's the product of a famously conservative era reacting with understanding, a sequence that's in some ways still ahead of its time in both its attitudes and its use of the conservative South as a metaphor for hypocrisy. "Pow'ful mendacity" indeed.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Burning up."

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