What is the importance of long stage directions in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams?
The stage directions for this particular play are almost a story in themselves. They are very descriptive and prescriptive, indicating that there was more to his play than the dialogue and the actions written into it were presenting. The length and thoroughness of these stage directions are important because they help the director and the actors to understand some of the story within the story.
For example, when describing the bed-sitting-room where most of the play takes place and where Brick and Maggie are staying, Williams says it
“must evoke some ghosts; it is gently and poetically haunted by a relationship that must have involved a tenderness which was uncommon" (Williams).
When we think about Brick and his guilt and sadness over Skipper, many critics have argued that Brick is so upset at Skipper's death because they were not just friends, but lovers. Where might they get that impression? From the stage notes. The stage direction above says "a tenderness which was uncommon," referring to Brick and Skipper. While the play's dialogue and action never overtly state that this relationship was homosexual, the stage directions often did imply just that. Given that this play was written and performed in the 1950s when homosexuality could not be talked about in a major play or movie or book, if the storyline involved a homosexual character, that needed to be implied and the lengthy stage directions for this play were able to do that for the directors who chose to heed them.