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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
First edition cover (New Directions)
Written by Tennessee Williams
  • Margaret
  • Brick
  • Big Daddy
  • Big Mama
  • Mae/"Sister Woman"
  • Gooper/"Brother Man"
  • Doctor Baugh
  • Reverend Tooker
Date premiered March 24, 1955
Place premiered Morosco Theatre
New York City, New York
Original language English
Subject Death, mendacity, relationships, homosexuality, alcoholism
Genre Drama
Setting Brick and Margaret's room on the Pollitt plantation in Mississippi

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a play by Tennessee Williams. It was produced by the Playwrights' Company. One of Williams's best-known works and his personal favorite,[1] the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955. Set in the "plantation home in the Mississippi Delta"[2] of Big Daddy Pollitt, a wealthy cotton tycoon, the play examines the relationships among members of Big Daddy's family, primarily between his son Brick and Maggie the "Cat", Brick's wife.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof features several recurring motifs, such as social mores, greed, superficiality, mendacity, decay, sexual desire, repression, and death. Dialogue throughout is often rendered phonetically to represent accents of the Southern United States. The original production starred Barbara Bel Geddes, Burl Ives, and Ben Gazzara. The play was adapted as a motion picture of the same name in 1958, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman as Maggie and Brick, with Burl Ives and Madeleine Sherwood recreating their stage roles. Williams made substantial excisions and alterations to the play for a revival in 1974. This has been the version used for most subsequent revivals, which have been numerous.


  • Plot 1
  • Themes 2
    • Falsehoods and untruths 2.1
    • Facing death 2.2
  • Stage productions 3
  • Original Broadway cast 4
  • Adaptations 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the story of a Southern family in crisis, especially the husband and wife Brick and Margaret (usually called Maggie or "Maggie the Cat"), and their interaction with Brick's family over the course of one evening gathering at the family estate in Mississippi. The party is to celebrate the birthday of patriarch Big Daddy Pollitt, "the Delta's biggest cotton-planter",[2] and his return from the Ochsner Clinic with what he has been told is a clean bill of health. All family members (except Big Daddy and his wife, Big Mama) are aware of Big Daddy's true diagnosis: he is dying of cancer. His family has lied to Big Daddy and Big Mama to spare the aging couple from pain on the patriarch's birthday but, throughout the course of the play, it becomes clear that the Pollitt family has long constructed a web of deceit for itself.

Maggie, determined and beautiful, has escaped a childhood of poverty to marry into the wealthy Pollitts, but finds herself unfulfilled. The family is aware that Brick has not slept with Maggie for a long time, which has strained their marriage. Brick, an aging football hero, infuriates her by ignoring his brother Gooper's attempts to gain control of the family fortune. Brick's indifference and his drinking escalates with the recent suicide of his friend Skipper. Maggie fears that Brick's malaise will ensure that Gooper and his wife Mae end up with Big Daddy's estate.

Through the evening, Brick, Big Daddy and Maggie—and the entire family—separately must face down the issues which they have bottled up inside. Big Daddy attempts a reconciliation with the alcoholic Brick. Both Big Daddy and Maggie separately confront Brick about the true nature of his relationship with his pro football buddy Skipper, which appears to be the source of Brick's sorrow and the cause of his alcoholism.

Brick explains to Big Daddy that Maggie was jealous of the close friendship between Brick and Skipper because she believed it had a romantic undercurrent. He states that Skipper took Maggie to bed to prove her wrong. Brick believes that when Skipper couldn't complete the act, his self-questioning about his sexuality and his friendship with Brick made him "snap". Brick also reveals that, shortly before he committed suicide, Skipper confessed his feelings to Brick, but Brick rejected him.

Disgusted with the family's "mendacity", Brick tells Big Daddy that the report from the clinic about his condition was falsified for his sake. Big Daddy storms out of the room, leading the party gathered out on the gallery to drift inside. Maggie, Brick, Mae, Gooper, and Doc Baugh (the family's physician) decide to tell Big Mama the truth about his illness and she is devastated by the news. Gooper and Mae start to discuss the division of the Pollitt estate. Big Mama defends her husband from Gooper and Mae's proposals.

Big Daddy reappears and makes known his plans to die peacefully. Attempting to secure Brick's inheritance, Maggie tells him she is pregnant. Gooper and Mae know this is a lie, but Big Mama and Big Daddy believe that Maggie "has life". When they are alone again, Maggie locks away the liquor and promises Brick that she will "make the lie true".


Falsehoods and untruths

Mendacity is a recurring theme throughout the play. Big Daddy uses the word to express his disgust with the "lies and liars" he sees around him, and with complicated rules of social conduct in Southern society and culture. Big Daddy states that Brick's disgust with mendacity is really disgust with himself for rejecting Skipper before his suicide. With the exception of Brick, the entire family lies to Big Daddy and Big Mama about his terminal cancer. Furthermore, Big Daddy lies to his wife, and Gooper and Mae exhibit avaricious motives in their attempt to secure Big Daddy's estate. In some cases, characters refuse to believe certain statements, leading them to believe they are lies. A recurring phrase is the line, "Wouldn't it be funny if that was true?", said by both Big Daddy and Brick after Big Mama and Maggie (respectively) claim their love. The characters' statements of feeling are no longer clear-cut truths or lies; instead, they become subject more to certainty or uncertainty. This phrase is the last line of the play as originally written by Williams and again in the 1974 version.[3]

Facing death

The ways in which humans deal with death are also at the focus of this play, as are the futility and nihilism some encounter when confronted with imminent mortality. Similar ideas are found in Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", which Williams excerpted and added as an epigraph to his 1974 version.[4] These lines are appropriate, as Thomas wrote the poem to his own dying father.[5]

Additionally, in one of his many drafts,[6] in a footnote on Big Daddy's action in the third act, Williams deems Cat on a Hot Tin Roof a "play which says only one affirmative thing about 'Man's Fate': that he has it still in his power not to squeal like a pig but to keep a tight mouth about it."[6]

Stage productions

There are many versions of the play script, one of which was influenced by director Elia Kazan, who directed the play on Broadway,[7] and another which was performed for the first time in London.

The original Broadway production, which opened at the Morosco Theater on March 24, 1955, was directed by Elia Kazan and starred Barbara Bel Geddes as Maggie; Ben Gazzara as Brick; Burl Ives as Big Daddy; Mildred Dunnock as Big Mama; Pat Hingle as Gooper; and Madeleine Sherwood as Mae.[8] Bel Geddes was the only cast member nominated for a Tony Award, and Kazan was nominated for Best Director of a Play. Both Ives and Sherwood would reprise their roles in the 1958 film version. The cast also featured the southern blues duo Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry and had as Gazzara's understudy the young Cliff Robertson. When Gazzara left the play, Jack Lord replaced him.[9] Others from the original Broadway production included R.G. Armstrong as Doctor Baugh; Fred Stewart as Reverend Tooker; Janice Dunn as Trixie; Seth Edwards as Sonny; Maxwell Glanville as Lacey; Pauline Hahn as Dixie; Darryl Richard as Buster; Eva Vaughn Smith as Daisy; and Musa Williams as Sookey.[8] In London, Kim Stanley starred as Maggie.

A 1974 revival by the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut featured Elizabeth Ashley, Keir Dullea, Fred Gwynne, Kate Reid, and Charles Siebert. Ashley was nominated for a Tony Award. For this production, Williams restored much of the text which he had removed from the original one at the insistence of Elia Kazan. He included a revised third act and made substantial revisions elsewhere.[10] According to Ashley, Williams allowed the actors to examine his original notes and various drafts of the script, and to make additions to the dialogue. When this production moved from Connecticut to Broadway, the part of Lacey was omitted and the number of Mae and Gooper's children reduced to three.[11] In that same decade, John Carradine and Mercedes McCambridge toured in a road company production as Big Daddy and Big Mama, respectively.

The 1988 London National Theatre production, directed by Howard Davies, starred Ian Charleson, Lindsay Duncan, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, and Eric Porter.

A revival in 1990 featured Kathleen Turner, who was nominated for a Tony for her performance as Maggie, though New York Magazine called her "hopelessly this limp production." Charles Durning, as Big Daddy, received a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play. Daniel Hugh Kelly was Brick, and Polly Holliday was Big Mama. Holliday was also nominated for a Tony.

A 2003 revival received lukewarm reviews despite the presence of film stars Ashley Judd and Jason Patric. Only Ned Beatty, as Big Daddy, and Margo Martindale, as Big Mama, were singled out for impressive performances. Martindale received a Tony nomination.

A 2004 production at the Dana Ivey as Big Mama, and Emily Skinner as Mae. Shortly afterward, Masterson and Davidson were married.

In 2008, an all-African-American production directed by Debbie Allen opened on Broadway. Terrence Howard made his Broadway debut as Brick, alongside stage veterans James Earl Jones (Big Daddy), Phylicia Rashad (Big Mama), Anika Noni Rose (Maggie) and Lisa Arrindell Anderson (Mae). In November 2009, the production moved to London's West End, where Adrian Lester played Brick and Sanaa Lathan was Maggie.[12] The West End Production received the 2010 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Revival of a Play.

In 2010, a production of the play opened at Cambridge University's renowned ADC Theatre.[13] And in January 2011, a production to mark Williams' 100 birthday was presented at Vienna's English Theatre, Vienna, Austria. From May 3, 2011 to October 23, 2011, 'Cat' is being performed at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada. From January 14 to February 26, 2012, 'Cat' is being performed at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

A 2013 Broadway revival featured Ciarán Hinds as Big Daddy, Debra Monk as Big Mama, Benjamin Walker as Brick, and Scarlett Johansson as Maggie.[14]

Original Broadway cast


The big-screen adaptation of the play was made in 1958 by MGM, and starred Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Judith Anderson, and Jack Carson, with Burl Ives and Madeleine Sherwood reprising their stage roles. The Hays Code limited Brick's portrayal of sexual desire for Skipper, and diminished the original play's critique of homophobia and sexism. Williams was reportedly unhappy with the screenplay, which removed almost all of the homosexual themes and revised the third act section to include a lengthy scene of reconciliation between Brick and Big Daddy. Paul Newman, the film's star, had also stated his disappointment with the adaptation. Despite this, the film was highly acclaimed and was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman both received Oscar nominations for their performances. Most critics agreed that the film provided both them and Burl Ives with their finest screen roles up to that time. Cat may have been too controversial for the Academy voters; the film won no Oscars, and the Best Picture award went to Gigi that year.

In 1976, a television version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was produced, starring the then husband-and-wife team of Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, and featuring Laurence Olivier as Big Daddy and Maureen Stapleton as Big Mama. Many concluded it was a superlative version of the play.

In 1984 a television version was produced by American Playhouse, starring Jessica Lange, Tommy Lee Jones, Rip Torn, Kim Stanley, David Dukes, and Penny Fuller. This adaptation, directed by Jack Hofsiss, revived the sexual innuendos which had been muted in the 1958 film. Both Stanley and Fuller were nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special, and Stanley went on to win. It was a reunion of sorts for Stanley and Lange, who received Oscar nominations for playing mother and daughter in 1982's Frances.


  1. ^ Parker, Brian: "Swinging a Cat", as published within Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 175. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  2. ^ a b Williams, Tennessee: "Notes for the Designer", Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 15. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  3. ^ Williams, Tennessee: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 173. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  4. ^ Williams, Tennessee: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 14. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  5. ^ Parker, Brian: "Swinging a Cat", published within Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 177. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  6. ^ a b Parker, Brian: "Swinging a Cat", published within Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 181. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  7. ^ Williams, Tennessee (1983). Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. New York: Signet. pp. 134–135.  
  8. ^ a b Williams, Tennessee (1983). Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. New York: Signet. p. 4.  
  9. ^ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: The Playbill for the Morosco Theatre. Playbill Incorporated. 1955. pp. 25, 27, 36, 38. 
  10. ^ Albee, Edward: "Introduction" for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 8. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  11. ^ a b Williams, Tennessee: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 13. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  12. ^ "ACTUAL ARTICLE TITLE BELONGS HERE!". Retrieved 2011-06-21. 
  13. ^ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,' ADC Theatre"'". Retrieved 2011-06-21. 
  14. ^ "Benjamin Walker, Debra Monk and Ciaran Hinds Will Join Scarlett Johansson in Broadway's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". Playbill. 2012-09-20. Retrieved 2012-12-28. 
  15. ^ a b c Williams, Tennessee: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 12. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.

Further reading

  • Bloom, Harold (Ed.) Tennessee Williams, Modern Critical Views, 80. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.
  • Cañadas, Ivan. “The Naming of Straw and Ochello in Tennessee Williams’s Cat On a Hot Tin Roof”, English Language Notes 42.4 (June 2005): 57–62.
  • Clum, John M. “‘Something Cloudy, Something Clear’: Homophobic Discourse in Tennessee Williams”, South Atlantic Quarterly 88.1 (Winter 1989): 161–79.
  • Plooster, Nancy. “Silent Partners: Lost Lovers in American Drama”. 1995 Queer Frontiers: Proceedings of the Fifth Annual National Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Graduate Student Conference. University of Southern California. March 23–26, 1995, Ed. John Waiblinger. University of Southern California Library.
  • Shackelford, Dean. “The Truth That Must Be Told: Gay Subjectivity, Homophobia, and Social History in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Tennessee Williams Annual Review 1 (1998): 103–118.
  • Stanton, Stephen S. (Ed.) Tennessee Williams: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1977.
  • Winchell, Mark Royden. “Come Back to the Locker Room Ag’in, Brick Honey!”, Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 48:4 (Fall 1995): 701–12.
  • The National, indie rock band. "City Middle" from the record "Alligator": "I think I'm like Tennessee Williams, I wait for the click; I wait, but it doesn't kick in."

External links

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