Mendacity and NNTT’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Last weekend I was lucky to see NNTT’s production of Tennessee Williams’ famous play, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”  Terajima Shinobu, an acclaimed Japanese  actress, admirably rendered Maggie in all her frustrated desperation, but the male lead caught my attention most, Kitamura Yukiya, as one of those ‘weak, beautiful people’ who can not face the necessary duplicity of the real world. His weary, almost cheerful apathy snagged my heart, and I was devastated by the end of the play, when he fully reveals his quiet inability to change or face reality.

In Japanese, practical terms exist to describe the many faces a human will wear, depending on the circumstance — tatemae (facade) and honne (real face).  In Japan, it is simply a part of human nature to dissemble, and no duplicity, hypocrisy, or untruth is seen, if a person does not show their ‘true’ face — it is even expected, in most social situations, to hide your true feelings behind set phrases and polite language.

Another aspect of Japanese culture that resonated within me with this very Western play is our Western need to brighten shadows.  Maggie can not let the possible homosexual darkness of Brick and Skipper’s feelings for each other pass unnoticed or unsaid — her own jealousy and anger forces her to name it or bring it out of the darkness, bullying Skipper to make a declaration that Brick can not accept, with tragic results. To me, Japanese are more likely to quietly acknowledge the presence of shadows while leaving them alone in darkness.  For better or worse, I think other cultures, and America in particular, feel the need to expose shadows to reality.  Both have their problems of course — ignoring shadows does not make them disappear, but shining light within can not fully dispel them either, as Brick and Maggie’s tragedy so beautifully shows in the play.

I want to be one of those people, like Maggie, who struggles and dances defiantly, aware of the constant hardship of deep feelings and lies but determined, even empowered to overcome.  Too often, I am like Brick, waiting for a ‘click’ inside my head to calm turbulent, unwanted feelings, either by running or writing or other distractions — thankfully not with Brick’s dependence on destructive substances.

Tennessee Williams was asked to write a second ending for the play, as the original (the one I saw last weekend) was deemed too hopeless, too ambiguous for Broadway.  I am thankful to see the original so movingly rendered on stage, although it has taken me a full week to be able to write about it without considerable lingering sadness.

For all of us, to keep dancing on the hot roofs, somehow managing to reach for stars. Maggie can not give up on her love for Brick, although he tells her: “You can just jump off” — Maggie’s emphatic ‘no’ affirmed everything that is lovely and loathsome about human feeling.

 

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