You hear stories all the time about leads in shows who hate each other; who won't speak a single word or even look at their onstage partners outside of the theater. That's definitely not a problem with Emily Swallow and Peter Christian Hansen, who play Maggie the Cat and Brick in the Guthrie Theater's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Even during a quick chat before a costume and wig fitting last Tuesday morning, it was clear that the two have found the off-stage rapport needed for their turns in Tennessee Williams's epic about love, longing, and loss in the sultry South.
This is Hansen's second time around as Brick, as he played the role five years ago in Torch Theater's production. "In a way it's familiar, but I still feel like I started over from scratch. Everything is different."
Swallow, whose credits include stage, film, and television work (Ringer, Southland, and The Good Wife are recent examples), is making her first turn as Maggie. "I've had a lot of friends who have played Maggie, and I've heard stories about Bricks who were super cut off. It makes it really fun for us that we get along so well off stage. We are able to laugh a lot and be stupid," she says.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play was first produced in 1955. In it, Williams delved heavily into numerous issues that, like the family in the play, often hide beneath the surface of everyday life. There is a lot of unfulfilled desire -- and heavy drinking -- at the core of Brick. Similar undercurrents are part of Maggie's character as well.
Photo by Michael Brosilow
"What amazes me about the show is that it is so funny, while at the same time it is so dark and grotesque. He writes reality, but it is larger than life. He does it in a truthful and honest way," Hansen says.
"The poetry he uses is phenomenal, but there is always something relatable about his characters. Since there is a core that is very human, he is able to say some of the language without being showy or grandiose. He locates people's pain, and presents it in a very honest way," Swallow adds.
"It feels like an epic play," Hansen continues. "It has the whole backdrop of the plantation they are on, even if it all takes place in one room."
It all comes back to the relationships in the cast. "The show always feels alive, and it feels like that even when the stuff that is set isn't being done by rote. That's very exciting, and a lot of that is the people in the cast," he says.
During rehearsal "you take lots of wrong turns until you find the solution. There is so much to find in this play; so many nuances," Swallow says. "Everyone in this cast is so generous and playful. It makes it so exciting to work on this play."
IF YOU GO
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Through February 26
Guthrie Theater 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis
For showtimes and tickets, call 612.377.2224 or visit online