Which actress is Maggie in ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’? (And yes, that’s a trick question)
Los Angeles actresses Rebecca Mozo and Linda Park have learned what to expect when they tell TV and film colleagues that they’re juggling pilot auditions and shooting schedules with theater roles.
“They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re doing a play? That’s so cute!’ ” Park says.
“ ‘Aw, how sweet,’ ” Mozo adds in a condescending chirp.
Cute and sweet aren’t necessarily the adjectives either performer would use to describe her work on L.A. stages. Through May 14, they’re sharing the part of Maggie Pollitt in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at Antaeus Theatre Company. Since Antaeus was founded in 1991, the ensemble has “partner-cast” its productions, assigning two actors to each role, so that the show can go on if one person has to bow out for an industry job.
So, depending on the night, either Mozo or Park can be found onstage at Antaeus’ new Glendale home, the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, dressing in 1950s finery — from the garters out — in preparation for one of the most cataclysmic birthday parties in American theater, all the while attempting to seduce her estranged husband and persuade her dying father-in-law to bequeath them his Mississippi plantation.
Maggie talks throughout the first act, but the talking isn’t the tricky part, both actresses agree.
“It’s being rejected for so long,” says Park. Brick, Maggie’s husband, ignores both her soliloquy and her negligee in favor of brooding and bourbon. Every once in a while, infuriatingly, he asks, “Did you say something, Maggie?”
“I feel like I’m constantly making a lasso and just trying to get him,” Mozo says of her Brick, played by Ross Philips.
The actor playing Park’s Brick, Daniel Bess, is her husband in real life too. (A number of Antaeus members are married to one another, such as Harry Groener and Dawn Didawick, who play Big Daddy and Big Mama in one of the casts of “Cat.” Mozo’s husband is an actor too, but he isn’t in the cast of “Cat.”)
It’s not a marital adventure Park would necessarily recommend.
“Sometimes it’s really confusing to me,” she admits. “I get so mad at Brick, but I’m mad at my actual husband. It gets blurred. I’m full of resentment at Daniel for saying to me what Brick said.”
Park once scraped her wrist when the stage went dark. Scenic designer Steven Kemp’s set is off-kilter and deconstructed. Some of the floorboards bend up steeply, as if warped by decades of humidity, and end in a row of splinters. Park didn’t notice she was bleeding until midway through the act, when she sat at the vanity to powder her face. She discreetly blotted her wounds with the powder puff.
I can’t imagine anything harder than doing Act I, except doing Act I bleeding.”
— Rebecca Mozo
“I can’t imagine anything harder than doing Act I,” Mozo offers sympathetically, “except doing Act I bleeding.”
One more thing: They’re working for free.
An Actors’ Equity Assn. membership company, Antaeus is exempt from the union’s relatively new rule that Los Angeles theaters with 99 or fewer seats must pay Equity actors a minimum wage.
Because of the need to make a living elsewhere, Mozo and Park say they have to limit themselves to one Antaeus show a year.
Park also works regularly on TV, having had regular roles on the series “Star Trek: Enterprise” and “Crash.” Mozo works on TV and in theaters that do pay actors, but sometimes at the expense of the flexibility Antaeus offers.
“Some theaters make you buy your way out of a contract if you leave to do a pilot,” Mozo says. “Double-casting is the only feasible way to do a play during pilot season for no money.”
Though logistically practical, is double-casting weird? A psychological hurdle for the cast and even the audiences expecting to see a certain actor?
If anybody would know, it would be Mozo and Park. Maggie the Cat is the third role they have shared at Antaeus. Surely, human nature being what it is, there has been some tension, or at least competition, behind the scenes?
But as they drink iced tea at a Hollywood cafe, Mozo and Park seem delighted to commiserate with their alternate-universe avatars. The “Cat” casts rehearsed together daily for months, but since performances began, they haven’t been in the theater at the same time.
They say director Cameron Watson, whom the cast calls Big Daddy, encouraged them to develop their own takes on Maggie even as they worked together to build the character.
Park was born in South Korea and is the rare Asian American actress to play Maggie; Mozo is Caucasian. Although the text hasn’t been altered, their identities inflect their character in subtle but surprising ways.
“That line in the third act when we say, ‘Big Daddy’s wearing the Chinese slippers I gave him,’ ” Park tells Mozo. “The audience is like, ‘Ohhhh.’ ”
Mozo’s jaw drops. “That never even occurred to me.”
It’s not always such smooth sailing. “On every show, there’s usually a drama around a pair of double-cast actors,” Park says. “We haven’t had anything on this one. And we didn’t have anything on ‘Vanya,’ did we?”
Mozo hesitates. “A few things are coming to mind.”
“What happened on ‘Vanya’? Tell me!” Park says.
“Also, you and I didn’t always get along,” Mozo reminds Park.
“OK, I guess we’re just having a total honest thing here in front of the L.A. Times,” Park says. “But after ‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession,’ my husband, Daniel, said to me, ‘You’d better put your clothes away, because I overheard Mozo saying that you never put your clothes away.’ ”
Mozo, bemused: “I never knew that. What was he talking about? Maybe he heard me getting annoyed because we had one costume and I had makeup on the lapel?”
They’ve since developed a tighter personal and working relationship, they say, which helps when playing Maggie means coping with long hours, ill-fitting shoes, malfunctioning nylons, tricky garter belts and marital crises.
“This is a role that I’ve been dreaming of playing since I was 12 years old,” Park says. “I never thought I’d have the chance to do it.”
Mozo concurs. “When you’re a scrapper, like Linda and I are, you dream of playing the ultimate scrapper,” she says. “It’s been surreal. Every morning I wake up and I think, ‘I’m playing Maggie the Cat.’ And I’m smiling so hard it’s like I slept with a hanger in my mouth.”
Park says she still feels like throwing up before every performance. “And I’m like, ‘Really? Is this ever going to go away?’ ”
Mozo sighs contentedly. “Nope.”
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‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (check for additions and exceptions); ends May 14
Where: Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, 110 E. Broadway, Glendale
Info: (818) 506-1983, www.antaeus.org
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