by Sandi Durell
The usually purring sex-starved kitten Maggie has become a lioness as her husky voice resounds with accusations and pleading sarcasm. She’s on the prowl all right, focused on getting Big Daddy’s 28,000 acre plantation through her inebriated good looking ex-football playing husband, and Daddy’s favorite son, Brick.
I don’t know how the beautiful award-winning film star Scarlett Johansson (and Tony Award Winner for her portrayal in her Broadway debut 3 years ago in “View From the Bridge”) can throw those lines, in Southern drawl, barely coming up for a breath of air. It’s stultifying. A great actress she is, but me thinks this interpretation has something to do with Rob Ashford’s role as director of a dramatic play. He is a superb choreographer for musicals such as “Promises, Promises,” “How To Succeed. . ., ” “Evita.”
This Tennessee Williams’ revival has the added conflict of loud sounds and noises – – firecrackers, phones ringing, household servants singing, music playing, thunder – all the while making the dialogue and bits and pieces of witty line delivery fall onto deafened ears because it’s in conflict with all this additional noise.
The Pollitt family is a scheming band of Southerners, except for Brick (Benjamin Walker – Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson) who wants nothing more than to keep drinking Bourbon until he gets his buzz so as not to feel the pain of the loss of his best college friend Skipper, who may have been much more than just a friend. He spends his time dragging his broken foot around, sitting and brooding. Maggie is desperate for his love, he unwilling to yield. When Brick finally speaks, however, it is scary and powerful.
Big Daddy (Ciaran Hinds) is the gruff, ill-tempered head of the household who hasn’t a kind word for any of his family kin, even for Mama (Debra Monk) who twitters here and there making nice until reality hits. They have reached that point of love/like that has turned to hate/disgust. Special kudos to Hinds, an Irishman, for taking on a Southern facade that is charming. Ms. Monk occasionally loses that drawl replacing it with the shrill sound of a Brooklyn washerwoman.
Cunning older brother Gooper (Michael Park) and his scheming, pregnant wife, Mae (Emily Bergl), spend their time looking through a peephole and spying on Maggie and Brick. They are ready to pounce as soon as Big Daddy takes his last breath. Their brood of five children are loud and noisy, none of them at all endearing except during a little musical offering they make in honor of Big Daddy’s birthday.
Aside from the expressed problems, one cannot deny this is an extremely talented cast. The 3 Acts all take place in Maggie and Brick’s upscale bedroom surrounded by four large French windows and sheer billowy curtains, the large brass bed a central focal point. Christopher Oram, scenic designer, lighting Neil Austin and Julie Weiss, with her costumes, have captured the flavor.
The design is a peephole for everyone to spy – the servants and the audience- where all eventually gather to celebrate (?) Big Daddy’s 65th Birthday. Unbeknownst to him and others, he is dying of cancer.
Exposing mendacity is the theme of this play. But there is a disconnect due, in part, to the addition of the unnecessary sounds throughout the 2 hours, 40 minutes (2 intermissions).
“Cat On a Hot Tin Roof” – Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 West 46 Street, NYC.