Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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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 premieredMarch 24, 1955
Place premiered Morosco Theatre
New York City, New York
Original language English
SubjectDeath, mendacity, relationships, loneliness, homosexuality, alcoholism
Genre Drama, Southern Gothic
SettingBrick and Margaret's room on the Pollitt plantation in Mississippi

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a three-act play written by Tennessee Williams. The play, an adaptation of his 1952 short story "Three Players of a Summer Game", was written between 1953 and 1955. [1] One of Williams's more famous works and his personal favorite, [2] the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955. Set in the "plantation home in the Mississippi Delta" [3] 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 motifs such as social mores, greed, superficiality, mendacity, decay, sexual desire, repression and death. Dialogue throughout is often written using nonstandard spelling intended 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.


Barbara Bel Geddes as Maggie in the original Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) Cat-on-a-Hot-Tin-Roof-Bel-Geddes-1.jpg
Barbara Bel Geddes as Maggie in the original Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955)

A family in the American South is in crisis, especially the husband and wife Brick and Margaret (usually called Maggie or "Maggie the Cat"), and the crisis unspools with Brick's family over the course of one evening's gathering at the family estate in Mississippi. The party celebrates the birthday of patriarch Big Daddy Pollitt, "the Delta's biggest cotton-planter", [3] 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 have escalated with the suicide of his football buddy Skipper. Maggie fears that Brick's malaise will ensure that Gooper and his wife, Mae, inherit Big Daddy's estate.

Ben Gazzara as Brick in the original Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) Cat-on-a-Hot-Tin-Roof-Gazzara-1.jpg
Ben Gazzara as Brick in the original Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955)

Through the evening, each member of the family must face 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 close friendship with Skipper, which appears to be the source of Brick's sorrow and the cause of his alcoholism. Brick explains to Big Daddy that the friendship troubled Maggie, who jealously believed it had a romantic undercurrent, and says Skipper took Maggie to bed to prove her wrong but could not complete the act, raising inner doubts that made him "snap." Brick also reveals that Skipper, shortly before his suicide, confessed his attraction 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 rest to drift inside. Maggie, Brick, Mae, Gooper, and Doc Baugh (the family's physician) decide to tell Big Mama the truth about her husband's 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. Brick 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) exclaim 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. [4]

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. [5] These lines are appropriate, as Thomas wrote the poem to his own dying father. [6]

Additionally, in one of his many drafts, [7] 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." [7]

Stage productions

Original production

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. [9] Kazan had enormous power in the industry at the time, sufficient to convince Williams to rewrite the third act to Kazan's liking. [10] Kazan requested that Maggie be shown as more sympathetic, the dying Big Daddy to make a reappearance, and Brick to undergo some sort of moral awakening. [10] Williams capitulated, but when the play was published later that year by New Directions Publishing, it included two versions of act three, Williams' original and the Broadway revision, with his accompanying "Note of Explanation". For its 1974 revival, Williams made further revisions to all three acts, and New Directions published that version of the play in 1975. [11]

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. [12] 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, the play was directed by Peter Hall and opened at the Comedy Theatre on January 30, 1958. Kim Stanley starred as Maggie, with Paul Massie as Brick and Leo McKern as Big Daddy. [13]


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. [14] 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. [15] In that same decade, John Carradine and Mercedes McCambridge toured in a road company production as Big Daddy and Big Mama.

The 1988 London National Theatre production, directed by Howard Davies, starred Ian Charleson, Lindsay Duncan, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, and Eric Porter. [16]

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 lost ... in 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 also was nominated for a Tony.

A 2001 production at the Lyric Shaftesbury, London, was the first West End revival since 1958. Produced by Anthony Page, the production featured Brendan Fraser as Brick, Frances O'Connor as Maggie, Ned Beatty as Big Daddy and Gemma Jones as Big Mamma. Reviews were generally positive. [17]

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 2003 revival for Belvoir St Theatre was directed by Simon Stone and starred Jacqueline McKenzie as Maggie, Ewen Leslie as Brick, and Marshall Napier as Big Daddy. This production was a box office hit, with season extended to the Theatre Royal (Sydney). [18]

A 2004 production at the Kennedy Center featured Mary Stuart Masterson as Maggie, Jeremy Davidson as Brick, George Grizzard as Big Daddy, Dana Ivey as Big Mama, and Emily Skinner as Mae. Shortly afterward, Masterson and Davidson were married.

In 2008, an all-black production directed by Debbie Allen opened on Broadway. Terrence Howard made his Broadway debut as Brick, with James Earl Jones as Big Daddy, Phylicia Rashad as Big Mama, Anika Noni Rose as Maggie and Lisa Arrindell Anderson as Mae. In November 2009, the production moved to London's West End, where Adrian Lester played Brick and Sanaa Lathan played Maggie. [19] 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 ADC Theatre, and in January 2011, a production to mark Williams' 100th birthday was presented at Vienna's English Theatre, Vienna, Austria. The play was performed at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada in 2011 starring Maya O’Connell as Maggie and Gray Powell as Brick and in 2012 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, George Porteous as Sonny, and Scarlett Johansson as Maggie. [20]

A 2014 production played at Royal & Derngate, Royal Exchange Theatre and Northern Stage, with original music by White Lies. It featured Mariah Gale, Charles Aitken, Daragh O'Malley and Kim Criswell and was directed by James Dacre. In this production, O'Malley was singled out for his performance and won an MTA Award and Stage Nomination for his portrayal of Big Daddy.

The Berkshire Theatre Festival produced the play in June, 2016, under the direction of David Auburn, with Michael Raymond-James as Brick, Rebecca Brooksher as Maggie, Linda Gehringer as Big Mama, and Jim Beaver as Big Daddy. [21]

The Young Vic's 2018 production, directed by Benedict Andrews, and starring Sienna Miller as Maggie, Jack O'Connell as Brick, Colm Meaney as Big Daddy, Lisa Palfrey as Big Mama, Hayley Squires as Mae, Brian Gleeson as Gooper, Richard Hansell as Doctor, and Michael J. Shannon as Reverend, was filmed at the Apollo Theatre for National Theatre Live. [22] On March 10, 2021, the filmed production was added the National Theatre Live's streaming service: National Theatre At Home. [23]

In 2022, the Tennessee Wiiliams Estate granted right to the production company, Ruth Stage, to perform the show Off Broadway for the first time in the play's history. The show ran to largely positive reviews for 35 performances at the Theatre at St. Clements in Hell's Kitchen. Because of the shows success, the Estate granted an unprecedented re-engagement for 41 more performances at the same theatre in the Winter of 2023. [24]

Notable casts

CharacterOriginal Broadway Cast (1955)Original West End Cast (1958)1974 Broadway Revival Cast [25] 1990 Broadway Revival Cast [26] 2003 Broadway Revival Cast [27] 2008 Broadway Revival Cast [28] 2013 Broadway Revival Cast [29] 2022 Off Broadway production2023 Off Broadway production
Margaret Barbara Bel Geddes [30] Kim Stanley Elizabeth Ashley Kathleen Turner Ashley Judd Anika Noni Rose Scarlett Johansson Sonoya MizunoCourtney Henggeler
Brick Ben Gazzara/Jack Lord Paul Massie Keir Dullea Daniel Hugh Kelly Jason Patric Terrence Howard Benjamin Walker Matt de Rogatis
Big Daddy Burl Ives Leo McKern Fred Gwynne Charles Durning Ned Beatty James Earl Jones Ciarán Hinds Christian Jules le BlancFred Weller
Big Mama Mildred Dunnock Bee Duffell Kate Reid Polly Holliday Margo Martindale Phylicia Rashad Debra Monk Alison Fraser
Gooper Pat Hingle [30] Alan Tilvern Charles Siebert Kevin O'Rourke Michael Mastro Giancarlo Esposito Michael Park Adam Dodway
Mae Madeleine Sherwood [30] Daphne Anderson Joan Pape Debra Jo Rupp Amy Hohn Lisa Arrindell Anderson Emily Bergl Tiffan BorelliChristine Copley
Doctor Baugh R.G. Armstrong [15] Launce MaraschalWilliam LarsenJerome DempseyEdwin C. OwensCount StovallBrian ReddyJim KempnerGiorgio Panetta
Reverend Tooker Fred Stewart Roger WintonWyman PendletonNesbitt BlaisdellPatrick Collins Lou Myers Vin KnightMilton Elliott
TrixieJanice DunnVanessa HallidayErin TorpeyPamela Jane HenningMarissa ChisolmCharlotte Rose MasiAlex Smith
SonnySeth EdwardsBilly L. SullivanZachary RossSkye Jasmine Allen-McBeanGeorge Porteous
LaceyMaxwell GlanvilleDon JohnsonMarcial HowardAlvin KeithClark JacksonLance Roberts
Dixie Pauline Hahn Jasmine BowenKathy RichAmy GrossIsabella MehielHeaven HowardVictoria Leigh
Brightie Brownie McGhee Ron BriceStarla BenfordWill Cobbs
BusterDarryl RichardBryan WhattsSeth Jerome WalkerCharles SaxtonNoah Unger
DaisyEva Vaughn SmithTanya Birl
PollySuzy BouffardMuireann Phelan Laurel Griggs
Small Sonny Terry Mark Heath
SookeyMusa WilliamsSonateSarallenEdwina LewisMarja HarmonCherene Snow


The big-screen adaptation of the play was released by MGM in 1958 and starred Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Judith Anderson, and Jack Carson, with Burl Ives and Madeleine Sherwood reprising their stage roles. Critics said that the film censors and directors diminished the motion picture's authenticity. [10] The Hays Code limited Brick's portrayal of sexual desire for Skipper, and diminished the original play's critique of homophobia and sexism. According to critic Emanuel Levy, George Cukor was initially assigned to direct the film, "though issues of censorship— homosexuality in particular— prevented him from doing it". [31] Director Richard Brooks’ version was criticized for toning down the play, specifically eliminating the homosexual theme. [31] The film substituted a hazy image of hero-worship rather than Tennessee Williams' strong suggestion of homosexuality. [31] Williams reportedly was 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, also had 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.

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.

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 won.

The 2016 Bollywood movie Kapoor & Sons also drew its inspiration from the play.

A new film adaptation was announced in 2021, with Antoine Fuqua directing and producing. The producers of the 2008 Broadway revival, Stephen C. Byrd and Alia Jones-Harvey, will also produce. [32]

Awards and nominations

Original Broadway production

YearAward ceremonyCategoryNomineeResult
1955 New York Drama Critics' Circle Best American Play Tennessee Williams Won
Pulitzer Prize Drama [note 1] Won
1956 Tony Award Best Play Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play Barbara Bel Geddes Nominated
Best Director Elia Kazan Nominated
Best Scenic Design Jo Mielziner Nominated

1974 Broadway revival

YearAward ceremonyCategoryNomineeResult
1975 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play Elizabeth Ashley Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Play Nominated
Outstanding Set Design John Conklin Nominated

1990 Broadway revival

YearAward ceremonyCategoryNomineeResult
1990 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play Kathleen Turner Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play Charles Durning Won
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play Polly Holliday Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play Charles Durning Won
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Revival of a PlayWon
Outstanding Actor in a Play Charles Durning Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Play Kathleen Turner Nominated

2003 Broadway revival

YearAward ceremonyCategoryNomineeResult
2004 Tony Award Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play Margo Martindale Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play Ned Beatty Won
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Margo Martindale Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play Ned Beatty Won
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Margo Martindale Nominated
Drama League Award Distinguished Revival of a PlayNominated

2008 Broadway revival

YearAward ceremonyCategoryNomineeResult
2008 Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play James Earl Jones Won

See also

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Informational notes

  1. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. pressured the prize jury into presenting the Prize to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which the jury considered the weakest of the five shortlisted nominees ("amateurishly constructed... from the stylistic points of view annoyingly pretentious"), instead of Clifford Odets' The Flowering Peach (their preferred choice) or The Bad Seed, their second choice. [33]


  1. Williams, Tennessee. Plays 1937–1955. Mel Gussow and Kenneth Holditch, eds. New York: Library of America, 2000, pp. 1017–1018, 1034. ISBN   978-1-883011-86-4
  2. Parker, Brian: "Swinging a Cat", as published within Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 175. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  3. 1 2 Williams, Tennessee: "Notes for the Designer", Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 15. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  4. Williams, Tennessee: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 173. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  5. Williams, Tennessee: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 14. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  6. Parker, Brian: "Swinging a Cat", published within Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 177. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  7. 1 2 Parker, Brian: "Swinging a Cat", published within Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 181. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  8. 1 2 Williams, Tennessee (1983). Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. New York: Signet. p. 4. ISBN   0-451-17112-8.
  9. "Tony Awards".
  10. 1 2 3 Billington, Michael (September 30, 2012). "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: Tennessee Williams's southern discomfort". Retrieved September 5, 2022.
  11. [8] Williams, Tennessee. Plays 1937–1955, pp. 1034–1035.
  12. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: The Playbill for the Morosco Theatre. Playbill Incorporated. 1955. pp. 25, 27, 36, 38.
  13. Theatre World Annual (London) number nine [editor: Frances Stephens], London 1958
  14. Albee, Edward: "Introduction" for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 8. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  15. 1 2 Williams, Tennessee: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 13. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  16. "Production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof | Theatricalia".
  17. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on stage in London starring Sienna Miller and Jack O'Connell through to 7 October 2017 - theatre tickets and information".
  18. "Cat goes to Theatre Royal". Belvoir St Theatre. February 8, 2013.
  19. "Cat West End". Retrieved 2011-06-21.
  20. "Benjamin Walker, Debra Monk and Ciarán Hinds Will Join Scarlett Johansson in Broadway's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". Playbill. 2012-09-20. Archived from the original on 2013-01-03. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  21. "John Gray's Fade to Gray column: Beaver on a hot tin roof". troyrecord. 2016-06-21. Retrieved 2023-01-18.
  22. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof".
  23. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Starring Sienna Miller, Joins National Theatre Streaming Service | TheaterMania". 10 March 2021. Retrieved 2023-01-18.
  24. "Ruth Stage and the Little Cat on a Hot Tin Roof That Can | Playbill".
  25. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Broadway @ ANTA Theatre". Playbill. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  26. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Broadway @ Eugene O'Neill Theatre". Playbill. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  27. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Broadway @ Music Box Theatre". Playbill. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  28. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Broadway @ Broadhurst Theatre". Playbill. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  29. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Broadway @ Richard Rodgers Theatre". Playbill. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  30. 1 2 3 Williams, Tennessee: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, p. 12. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004.
  31. 1 2 3 Levy, Emanuel (February 7, 2008). "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958): Tennessee Williams on Big Screen, Starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor". Retrieved September 5, 2022.
  32. Lang, Brent (April 21, 2021). "Antoine Fuqua Directing Film Adaptation of 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved April 3, 2022.
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Further reading