Broadway Review – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
There is an old saying that not everyone can do Shakespeare, well perhaps this saying should also include Tennessee Williams. Beautiful and charismatic, Ms. Johansson does her best to keep this misfire afloat, but unfortunately she is sabotaged by director Rob Ashford’s misguided vision. Things are further botched by the pretentious and confusing set by Christopher Dram and the overbearing and loud sound design by Adam Cork. Only costume designer, Julie Weiss seems to know what she is doing and where and when the play actually takes place.
Poor Scarlett,-why must such a stunning creature, who obviously can act be subject to such silliness? Her interpretation isn’t wrong or ineffective, it just isn’t finished. At only 28 years old, Maggie finds her life unraveling and her needs unfulfilled. She can no longer float on her good looks -“You can be young without money but not old without it.” Inheriting Big Daddy’s (Ciaran Hinds) estate may be difficult for Brick, Maggie’s husband (Benjamin Walker) because Brick has no job and ambition and they have no children. However, you cannot have a child, if your husband will not sleep with you; herein lies Maggie’s dilemma.
Brick is emotionally crippled due to guilt over the death of his best friend. His physical injury forces him to use a crutch, hence the metaphor for his emotional damge.
The play is often billed as a star vehicle for the actress playing Maggie but in fact the play is a more of an ensemble piece with the first act focusing heavily on Maggie’s character and the second act focusing on a confrontation between Big Daddy and Brick. The third act is more about all the characters, including Big Mamma (Debra Monk), Brick’s brother (As the World Turns star Michael Park) and his wife Mae (Emily Bergl).
Johansson has stage presence and vitality for sure. She is naturally sexy and delivers her monologues well. But her Maggie lacks desperation and vulnerability. Elizabeth Taylor played Maggie in the 1958 movie. Taylor once said, “I have a woman's body and a child's emotions.” It is this childlike vulnerability and mercurial emotions that made her so iconic in the role. At various times in the movie she is clutching Brick (played by Paul Newman) with a look of terror and desperation in her eyes. Taylor always exuded desire and vulnerability. Johansson is certainly sexy and strong, but too often her dialogue and monologues feel accusatory, judgmental and angry, instead of desperate and sad.
The strength that she shows actually hinders the drama sometimes, especially played against Walkers’ limp interpretation of Brick. There is not much happening here. As the play opens, Brick is a defeated person, but we must feel that he has great potential and was once virile and vital. Here is none of the smoldering that Paul Newman conveyed in the film. Walker is about as smoldering as a match that has burned for ten seconds. At one point he confronts Maggie physically on the bed, and it is supposed to be dangerous and scary. But Scarlett looks as though she can flick him away like a summer gnat that landed on her hand at a barbecue.
Hinds is adequate as Big Daddy. He certainly has a formidable presence, but again, no modulation. He plays it like an angry, bitter stalker. There should be humor and sadness here as well.
I can’t figure out the set. Too many doors leading to spaces I don’t understand. It feels like it should either be more realistic or more abstract, but as is- I don’t understand the playing space. There is a lot of eavesdropping and spying, but it doesn’t feel real because the relationship of doors to spaces is not clear. A door less set would have been a better choice.
The play itself hasn’t dated much. Its themes of cynicism, mendacity, greed and marital problems are all contemporary, but this production is a bad interpretation. It sacrifices all of Williams poetry, deep characterizations, regrets and desperation for a flashy commercial mess that just doesn’t gel or resonate.