Call Redialed: Michael Raver: "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" at Music Theatre of Connecticut
It’s always great to get to catch up with playwright/actor Michael Raver! His insight into the world of theatre is always so sophisticated. I just love hearing his perspective.
Michael is getting ready to star as “Brick” in Music Theatre of Connecticut’s production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof takes place in a plantation house as a family celebrates the sixty-fifth birthday of “Big Daddy,” as they sentimentally dub him. The mood is somber, despite the festivities, because a number of evils poison the gaiety: greed, sins of the past and desperate, clawing hopes for the future spar with one another as the knowledge that “Big Daddy” is dying slowly makes the rounds. “Maggie,” “Big Daddy's” daughter-in-law, wants to give him the news that she's finally become pregnant by “Big Daddy's” favorite son, “Brick,” but “Brick” won't cooperate in “Maggie's” plans and prefers to stay in a mild alcoholic haze the entire length of his visit. Swarming around “Maggie” and “Brick” are their intrusive, conniving relatives, all eager to see “Maggie” put in her place and “Brick” tumbled from his position of most-beloved son. By evening's end, “Maggie's” ingenuity, fortitude and passion will set things right, and “Brick's” love for his father, never before expressed, will retrieve him from his path of destruction and return him, helplessly, to “Maggie's” loving arms.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof will play at Music Theatre of Connecticut (509 Westport Ave, Route 1) in Norwalk, CT from November 2-18. Click here for tickets!
1. What made you want to audition for this production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof? It’s a masterpiece of a play. Once I felt like I was in the pocket to believably play "Brick," I started veraciously hunting down an opportunity to do it. I’d been chomping at the bit. And I love how intimate the venue is, which does a huge service to the story. The play is an intimate portrait of a family in crisis and we’re right on top of the audience at MTC. Things will get steamy very quickly.
2. What do you relate to most about Brick? I appreciate how conflicted he is. There’s a big, big burden on his back. His family has high expectations. That kind of judgment is rough. He’s being pulled in a million directions, is hopelessly confused about how to manage his anger and a very deep sadness. But he’s got a dry sense of humor. He absolutely does.
3. What is one characteristic of his you are glad you don't possess? In 2018, there’s an emotional vocabulary available to us that someone like “Brick” didn’t have in the 1950’s. I didn’t have a repressed upbringing, thankfully. I’m a native New Yorker, so we all had opinions and expressed them without hesitating. I also don’t live my life like a clenched fist, which is “Brick’s” primary survival strategy. That and alcohol. I know how to pass on a drink.
4. How do you prepare/get into the role of Brick? Read the play twelve thousand times. I take great solace in the fact that, while I’ve been dying to play this part for ages, I’ve warded off my opinions about character choices and things like that in the spirit of protecting my process, should I get the chance to play him.
With pieces like this, like Long Day’s Journey or Streetcar or Death Of A Salesman, it can be so easy to think we know those works better than we maybe do. Once you’re in the rehearsal room, all of your suppositions and preconceived notions can only get in the way. They usually end up hindering more than they help. I love the idea of standing in a room, listening to Andrea and then responding in accordance to that. In the moment. Prepared, but unarmed.
5. As a playwright yourself, what do you love about Tennessee Williams' writing style? Oh God. Everything. I love how he managed to have lyricism and awkwardness and power and confusion and lust and disappointment all swim together in the same pool. The speech when “Maggie” is describing how “Brick” was in bed is poetic and unbelievably explicit at the same time. It’s incredible. I also love how prolific Williams was. Close to one hundred plays, two novels, short stories and essays and film scripts…it’s staggering. The man clearly respected hard work.
6. What are the most challenging part of this script to remember? I’m terribly slow to learn lines. I have to really grind and I hate doing it. But someone once told me that if there’s a line in a play that continues to trip you up, it usually means there’s a fundamental lack of understanding about the nature or intention around that line. The good news with Williams is that it’s a bottomless pit in the best way. The interpretations of the subtleties in these words are endless. It’s really liberating that I don’t have to feel the shadow of Paul Newman’s ghost hovering over me. (Laughs)
7. The show is a drama of family, greed, and sexual desire. Let's break this down a bit. What is one family drama you are bringing to this production that is helping you get into character? Oh boy. I have to leave my own family drama out of my work or I’d never make it through a single project. Life experiences absolutely inform my choices, whether I’m acting in something or writing, but I’m less invested in the process being burdened with my story and much more interested in figuring out how to fit what the play calls for.
8. When was there a time you felt greed was put before generosity? There’ve been tons of times where I’ve felt that, especially living in New York. Absolutely. I get it though. We’re human bumper cars. When people are traumatized or are in a pressure-cooker environment, they have to come up with survival strategies to navigate their lives.
When we’re in conflict, it can be really hard to step back for a moment to get a chance to disidentify from ego long enough to see how we might be harming one another. One of the really cool things about this play is that “Big Daddy” actually manages do that. Sometimes I wonder if Williams wrote that scene between “Brick” and his father because he wished to have experienced that kind of tolerance himself.
9. Like "Brick," has there been a time when you chose to stay in a mild alcoholic haze instead of facing reality? Thankfully, not like that. I’ve definitely enjoyed decompressing with a few glasses of something, sure. That said, I look at the artists whose work I love and how fearless they were to show up to create and think that if O’Neill or Williams or Shakespeare were brave enough to discuss their pain and their longing and regrets, then I owe it to myself to cultivate a really sturdy spine.
I’d much rather fortify myself in constructive ways than hide behind a temporary solution like booze. Safety comes from vulnerability, not fear. Which I think is probably something that’s confusing for “Brick.” He’s been taught that a disempowered alpha male approach is the only way to be a real man. In western culture, we’re taught that if you’re sensitive, gentle, sad or emotional, then you’re emasculated and therefore not valuable. I look at some of the antiquated behavior of the men who are currently running the country and think, “If that’s what a man is supposed to be, I must not be one.” It’s bonkers.
10. Which Tennessee Williams' play would best describe who you are and why did you choose said play? Vieux Carré, probably. It’s sort of a bookend play to The Glass Menagerie and is about transition from one era to another. The central character (who may or may not be “Tom Wingfield”) has just come from the end of a chapter of his life and by the time the play ends, he’s about to embark on another. I so resonate with that as I get older. The concept of change is getting less and less painful.
11. If you could be a "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” whose tin roof would you like to be on top of? Since the title, to me, suggests a state of constant and pulsating anxiety, I’d love to skip that entirely. My career already has plenty of anxious roadblocks. Unless they’re offering to rub my feet. And make me dinner. Then we’ll talk.
More on Michael:
Off-Broadway: The Persians (National Actors Theatre), Vieux Carre (The Pearl), Julius Caesar, Romeo & Juliet (Aquila/Lincoln Center), Death Comes For The War Poets (Sheen Center), Fire On Babylon (Wild Project). Select regional: Bay Street, Orlando Shakes, American Stage, Great River Shakes, Playhouse on Park, Ivoryton Playhouse. Various Film and TV.