Two-time Tony-nominated actress Alison Fraser chatted about playing Big Mama in the Off-Broadway re-engagement of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” It is being performed at The Theater at St. Clement’s until March 31.
She stars opposite Matt de Rogatis as Brick, Courtney Henggeler as Maggie the Cat, and Frederick Weller as big Daddy. This play was once again directed by Joe Rosario.
In addition, Fraser also guest starred as Bobbi Gallo in Season 13 of “Blue Bloods” on CBS.
Returning as Big Mama
On returning to play Big Mama, Fraser said, “It feels like coming home to the Delta. I did it last fall and felt so strongly about Joe’s vision and Matt’s singular Brick, that when they asked me to join the encore run with half a new cast, I knew I wanted to go for that exciting ride with them.”
“I knew I wasn’t finished with Big Mama at the end of the first run, and knowing all the lines going into the second run was a huge boon to my rehearsal process,” she said.
Fraser continued, “It feels like I am getting a second chance to find out more about this woman who is so often thought of as a victim. She is subjected to face to face cruelty by her husband -he repeatedly mocks her by calling her old, fat, acquisitive and power hungry.”
“Maggie refers to her as not ‘the quickest and brightest thing in the world,’ she is blatantly lied to by her trusted Doc Baugh and her son Gooper and his wife Mae, and Gooper tries to take control of Big Daddy’s and her business empire on the very day Big Daddy’s cancer is revealed to be terminal. Many of the stage directions read ‘she’s crying’ or ‘she leaves the room in tears’ or ‘Big Mama is very upset’ and that just didn’t make sense to me,” she explained.
“She and Big Daddy have been married for 40 years and had a healthy domestic relationship until five years ago when he got ill with the colon cancer that will ultimately kill him. It isn’t Big Daddy talking when he berates her so viciously-It’s the cancer talking-so she tries not to take it personally. She has kept herself attractive for her mogul husband, and she is a very accomplished hostess and has a good business head as evidenced by the fact the she runs the business when Big Daddy is ill,” she elaborated.
“This woman is no victim,” she admitted. “She is both the life of the party and a mother tigress when it comes to defending Big Daddy and Brick. She also knows that will or no will, under Mississippi estate law, she will be a hugely wealthy woman after Big Daddy’s death. She holds the cards.”
She acknowledged that the Tennessee Williams Estate is “very careful” when it comes to granting permission to perform his plays. “One of the first things I noticed about Matt de Rogatis and Joe Rosario, at our first meeting to discuss the possibility of my playing Big Mama , was their dual charisma,” she said.
“Together they make an undeniably strong team, and one that is obviously very hard to say no to, so it was no surprise to me that they were granted the right to produce ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ for the first time ever Off-Broadway, and then again to reprise it six months later,” she said.
Working with Frederick Weller as Big Daddy
Fraser opened up about working with Frederick Weller as the new Big Daddy. “Fred is a lovely, complex, hugely talented incredibly disciplined, vocally facile, always surprising, highly insightful performer with a keen intelligence and wicked sense of humor,” she said.
“His Big Daddy makes Big Mama fall in love with him every night despite his execrable behavior toward her, and she will be the one who will lovingly be by his side in his final journey,” she said.
“Fred has the dressing room next to all three ladies, and when we are very lucky we get to hear him softly play guitar and sing with his sweet soulful voice,” she added.
Most impressive about the venue this time around is that it got its own facelift. “It does look spruced up. I just thought it looked great because I was so happy to be back at St. Clement’s with the Ruth Stage gang,” she said.
Working with the cast
“If you saw our first version, come back again,” she said. “The new cast members are wonderful: Courtney Henggeler as Maggie is everything you want Maggie to be, and that’s a lot. Gorgeous, feline, sexy, funny, ferocious, and passionate, a deep southern Queen.”
“Adam Dodway and Christine Copley as Gooper and Mae are the most devious, self righteous, conniving son and daughter-in-law you’ll ever see on a stage and it is ever fun for Big Mama to put them in their place. Terrific actors,” she said.
She continued, “Speaking of terrific, we secretly call Milt Elliott who plays the preacher, the Laugh Master because he sure nails them. And we have not one, but two great Doc Baughs: Jim Kempner and Giorgio Panetta…and then of course there’s my precious baby Matt de Rogatis, simply the greatest Brick ever. Kudos to him and our visionary director Joe Rosario for putting this thrilling theatrical experience together.”
Fun fact about Big Mama
She shared a fun fact about her version of Big Mama… and this one has to do with her wardrobe. “My Big Mama gets to rotate costumes,” she exclaimed. “I asked Joe Rosario if it was okay and he thought it was a really interesting idea. So I have a beautiful collection of party dresses and nightly pick the one I feel like wearing,” she said.
“It is so much fun, and makes me feel like I am going to a party in my own home. So come see what Big Mama’s wearing tonight. You have until the end of the month t to experience dysfunctional life in the richest valley this side of the River Nile,” she said.
To learn more about two-time Tony nominee Alison Fraser, check out her official website.