In Part 3 of our series of interviews with the cast of Castaways Repertory Theatre’s production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, meet Catherine Lyon (Big Mama).
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform on our local stages. What shows and roles you have played?
Catherine: I’m Catherine Lyon and I play Big Mama. Most recently, I played Fraulein Schneider in PWLT’s production of Cabaret.
Have you performed in a Tennessee Williams production and/or Cat On A Hot Tin Roof before? If yes, where and who did you play?
No, I have never performed in a production of any Tennessee Williams play before, though one of my dearest wishes is to someday play Amanda in The Glass Menagerie.
Who do you play in this production and how do you relate and not relate to your character?
I play Big Mama – Brick’s mother, Margaret’s mother-in-law, Big Daddy’s adoring wife. Big Mama is, in many ways, a (stereo) typical woman/wife of the 1950’s U.S. She has very conventional ideas about a woman’s place, role and purpose in the family and home. She is doing her best to preserve her family in the only way she knows how. I respect her for her efforts, for her genuine love and dedication, her efforts in the face of serious and heart-breaking tragedy, and her own limitations. She has considerable limitations, but a lot of heart and great love.
What is the play about from the point of view of your character?
Tennessee WiIliams’ plays are always about the difficulties of the human condition, aren’t they? From the point of view of Big Mama, the play is about how to sustain the family in the face of Big Daddy’s declining health, the favored son’s (Brick’s) descent into alcoholism and the departure of the eldest son (Gooper) from the family’s core of operation. It’s the men who need to carry Big Daddy’s legacy on after Big Daddy’s demise, but it’s the men in the play who are the least capable of doing so.
How did you prepare for your role?
I read and reread and reread the script until I knew it to my bones. I studied the period. I read what others have written about the play and the characters, watched films of other productions and then went back to that delicious text and read it again. I talked to my fellow actors (oh, they’re such a lovely bunch!) about their character development and, of course, we’ve had lots of good support and insight and encouragement from Erin, our director, and Stella, our assistant director.
What scene did you find the most challenging to perform, and why?
Honestly, I find all of Big Mama’s scenes challenging to perform (I really find acting quite challenging). When Big Mama learns the truth about Big Daddy’s condition, she must process that news and, almost at the same time, fend off efforts by her elder son to take charge. I suppose that is the toughest scene to work through, to understand and to play. Williams writes lines that are to be spoken at the same time as another actor’s. He writes dialogue between characters on one side of the stage and dialogue between others on the other side of the stage or even offstage, and the lines of different dialogues weave and alternate between each other and everything must be clearly heard and understood. You have to get into a rhythm with your fellow actors — and not just with the spoken word but with the emotions behind those words. It’s timing and listening and, when it works, it’s magical — like catching a wave just so when you’re body surfing.
Joel: What’s next for you on the stage?
Who knows? Something wild, wonderful and challenging I hope!