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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - Act One

Synopsis of Tennessee Williams' Play


Production History:

Tennessee Williams wrote Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the mid 1950s. After several revisions with the guidance of direct Elia Kazan, the play debuted on Broadway in 1955. According to the Internet Broadway Database, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ran for 694 performances, making it the most successful of Williams' plays. The drama starred Ben Gazzara as the lead male protagonist, Brick. Barbara Bel Geddes starred as the sultry Maggie, and Burl Ives originated the role of Big Daddy.

The 1958 film was also a hit, although it expurgated some of the more mature themes, language, and homosexual subject matter. Williams was disappointed with the film adaptation. However, he revised the play for the 1974 Broadway revival, putting back many elements that were removed during his collaboration with Kazan. The following article summarizes the 1974 script of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

The Basic Plot and Characters:

Drunk and recently crippled, Brick Pollitt is holed up in the plantation home of his father, Big Daddy. His wife Maggie is desperate to reconnect with her emotionally estranged husband, and desperate to become pregnant so that she can secure the family inheritance when Big Daddy succumbs to his terminal illness. However, Brick is consumed with regret and sorrow, stemming from the death of his closest friend.

The Setting:

The entire play takes place in the guest bedroom of a large home, the southern mansion of Big Daddy Pollitt, successful plantation owner. Outside the room, relatives and guests can be heard, socializing and playing croquet.

Act One Synopsis:

Maggie is about to change her clothes because her nieces and nephews (whom she calls "no-neck monsters") messed up her dress with a buttered biscuit. Brick enters the room, fresh from a hot shower. He walks on crutches because the previous night he broke his ankle while trying to jump hurdles. He was drunk and out at his old school's stadium, trying to relive his glory days as a young athlete.

Maggie complains about the "no-neck monsters," and then turns her animosity toward the parents: Gooper (Brick's brother) and Mae (Brick sister-in-law). Maggie believes that Gooper and Mae continually show off their five children as a way of flaunting their fertility while at he same time poking fun of Brick and Maggie's lack of children.

It is Big Daddy's birthday. The patriarch of the Pollitt family has been away at the hospital, undergoing a series of tests. Maggie has read the medical results -- Big Daddy is dying of cancer. Maggie believes that Gooper and Mae want to edge Brick out of his rightful inheritance and ship him off to a rehab. She demonstrates her protectiveness:

MAGGIE: "Over my dead body they will ship you there."

Maggie lists the ways Brick has been on a downward spiral: unemployment, excessive drinking, breaking his ankle. However, she reminds her husband that he is still Big Daddy's favorite son.

Maggie speaks a great deal during Act One, segueing from one monologue about Big Daddy and the rest of the family. All the while, Brick drinks, attempting to numb himself and remain emotionally distant from his wife.

She catches him looking at her in a way that chills her. She has noticed this type of look several times before. She admits that her personality has transformed; she has become cruel. She tries to explain how lonely she feels. She loves Brick, but Brick does not return the feeling.

Maggie remarks about his good looks, wishing that he would turn ugly so that their dysfunctional marriage could become more bearable. Reflecting on their past, she compliments his love making skills, analyzing his detachment during sex.

MAGGIE: Your indifference made you wonderful at love making.

Although Brick has refused her sexual advances for some time now, she is determined to win back his heart (and his body). She asks if he was thinking about his later friend Skipper, and this finally evokes an emotional reaction from the otherwise stoic Brick. He begins to get angry, but tries to control his frustration by pouring another drink. She continues to goad him, hoping that he will stop being silent. She says that silence will not work, that memories of his past and memories of his dead friend will only fester in silence.

Continue reading the synopsis of Tennessee Williams' play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

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