Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is Tennessee Williams’ classic 1955 play about the horrors of guilt, mendacity, lovelessness, sleaziness, disgust, and the closet as all that affects a Southern family in disarray.
I’ve seen the play done in all-white versions and all-black versions, but the new Broadway production threatens to come off like Theater for the Deaf.
Tony winner Scarlett Johansson is the frustrated Maggie, who spends Act One raging against her alcoholic husband, Brick (Benjamin Walker) for not romancing her anymore, and worse, for looking better than ever. Johansson has fun with Maggie’s imaginative way with language, but with her raspy voice and overly direct approach, she seems to be playing Maggie’s extreme coarseness at the expense of her sultriness or vulnerability. Her high-volume take is interesting, but it’s hard to believe the emotionally (and physically) crippled Brick wouldn’t grab his crutch–as it were–and hobble away for miles rather than just roll over to the other side of the bed.
Act Two is a showdown between Brick and his righteous but ailing Big Daddy (Ciaran Hinds), who demands to know why his son took to drinking instead of boffing Maggie. Hinds is commanding, but screams so much he’s probably going to sound like Scarlett Johansson soon. His performance is too often grating instead of probing. At least when Brick gets to tell his “half-assed story” about how “clean” his relationship with his departed close buddy Skipper was, Walker finds texture in the material, and Williams’s angsty glow shines through.
But only in Act Three does the play become powerful, the billowing curtains signaling the storm that’s come on the heels of the truth about Big Daddy’s condition. Debra Monk has a big screaming scene as Big Momma as she fiercely reminds her scheming relations that she’s still his wife, not his widow, but her acting is heartfelt and strong. As Johansson and even Hinds get to show a little softness, the sledgehammer approach gives way to some lyricism before the play ends–though by then, my eardrums (and sensibilities) were truly on edge.
Interestingly, the help around the theater are as vocal as the cast! Outside, a security guy was screaming “Press tickets over there!” Inside, an attention-hungry female usher was yelling “Turn your cell phones off!” for a full minute of overdone theatrics. And after the show, an usher was bellowing, “Exit that way!!!!” Did Rob Ashford direct the staff too?