In this mesmerizing revival of Tennessee Williams' 1955 Southern family epic, a quartet of performances—backed by a strong ensemble, an impressive set, and thoughtful direction by Brady Schwind—provides a three-hour theatrical treat, from Maggie's Act 1 entrance to Brick's poignant last line in Act 3.
All signs point toward success from lights up, thanks to Kathleen Early as Maggie the Cat. Strutting and preening across the bedroom of the family's Southern plantation mansion, Early presents a Maggie who is determined and ruthless, but who has a soft side because of a love—or possibly just desire—for Brick (Aaron Blake). Early gives an overall sense of sadness to Maggie that makes her sympathetic, even when she's spouting shallow complaints. Blake, in what is arguably the most challenging role, succeeds in subtleties. Even at Brick's least aware moments, Blake places a glimmer of heart behind his eyes, as if a dying man is inside this drunken body longing to escape.
As impressive as Early is in Act 1, Michael Prohaska raises the bar even higher in the second act, making Big Daddy frightening and ruthless. Prohaska doesn't give his character a single moment's weakness, even when Big Daddy realizes he has cancer. Instead, tears turn to rage. A physically imposing man, Prohaska uses his size to his advantage, literally tossing Brick and Big Momma (Nadya Starr) like rag dolls. And Starr delivers a nervous, barely coherent Big Momma, whose fidgeting and constant fan waving reflects a woman who is losing the fight to ignore that her family is falling apart.
Schwind's pacing is swift, but he isn't afraid of silence and pauses at key moments. And he uses the spacious bedroom set, designed by Andrew Vonderschmitt, to accent the family's emotional distance through physical separation. All classics deserve this level of attention and care.
Presented by Neighborhood Playhouse at Neighborhood Church, 415 Paséo del Mark, Palos Verdes Estates. July 9–26. Wed.–Thu., 7:30 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 and 7:30 p.m. (800) 595-4849.www.neighborhoodplayhouse.net.