In my next column, I discuss the all-black Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but let me take a little extra time here to give my very white specifics on how each actor fares.
As Maggie, Anika Noni Rose has an endearing fierceness that makes that opening monologue truly move. This is a sassy Maggie, not a sultry one–and as a result, Liz Taylor remains the ultimate Maggie. You knew if a guy didn’t want to sleep with her, he HAD to be gay!
As Brick, Terrence Howard sits out the other people’s monologues with a sardonic approach that’s very magnetic. But when he takes center stage for Act Two, the pacing lags as he overemotes on each line and tries to evoke tears (his own) instead of being more human and immediate. (I actually agree with Ben Brantley on this!)
As Big Daddy, the commanding James Earl Jones starts out brilliantly in the scene where he’s reading Big Mama to filth. But once he has to sit down and converse with Brick, Jones becomes like a genus writer without a notepad. He has nothing to play with! As his wife, Phylicia Rashad is fun to watch, though she starts on too high a pitch, as if the whole play is about Big Mama. (And I guess to any actor playing her, it IS.) And as Mae, Lisa Arrindell Anderson projects “I’m a leering villain who’s going to underline every cunty thing I say,” which makes you distrust HER more than Mae. But her kids are amazing! And there’s some real enjoyment to be had here despite the reservations, so give the kitty a chance.