Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Let’s dive right in to the Rob Ashford-directed revival of Tennessee Williams’s classic play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

The play truly is a classic play, adhering to the classic conventions of a well made play. The action takes place in real time, with no lapses of time during intermission, and all in one room – Brick and Maggie’s bedroom.

Brick (Benjamin Walker) and Maggie (Scarlett Johansson) live on the plantation owned and still lived on by Brick’s parents, Big Daddy (Ciaran Hinds) and Big Mama (Debra Monk). It’s Big Daddy’s 65th birthday and the family is waiting on the results of medical tests to find out whether or not he has cancer. (Some family members know more than others.) Brick has taken to drinking – heavily – in reaction to the loss of a close friend (and possible lover), and the night before the action of the play, he broke his ankle while trying to recapture the glory of being a college (and, briefly, professional) athlete. Maggie the cat is anxious and domineering, and tiptoeing around the subject while trying to seduce her husband and get herself off the hot tin roof and on to the bed she longs to share with Brick.

The impressive scenic design by Christopher Oram adds dimensions to the production. His circular set finds everything surrounding the bed, and all the wooden planks on the floor point toward (or spoke out from, depending upon your perspective) the bed, which is where all the trouble lies. After all, as Big Mama points to the bed, she tells Maggie (who, in the program and in the script is referred to as Margaret but is always called Maggie by everyone in the play), “When a marriage is on the rocks, the rocks are right there.”

Interestingly, Ashford (How to Succeed...) staged almost all the confrontations between different pairs either on the bed or with the bed literally between the characters. This choice supports Big Mama’s assertion, and makes the final wager between Brick and Maggie all the more powerful.

Bringing these colorful characters to life is a cast that has varying degrees of success.

Scarlett Johansson (who won a Tony in 2010 for her work in A View from the Bridge) is good but she’s not quite nailing it. This is mostly due to her often unintelligible Southern accent and her signature sultry voice. The accent and Johansson’s delivery can make her Maggie sound more like a sassy black woman rather than a lady of the South. The combination of the accent and Johansson’s smoky voice are almost anathema to what Williams describes as Maggie’s voice: melodic and almost sing-songy. For my taste, there was too much gravel and not quite enough molasses in Maggie’s voice. It almost makes Maggie sound grating, rather than just itching for something. Johansson’s cadence, however, does fit. Her quick, breathless delivery, while sometimes making it difficult to catch every word, literally gives voice to Maggie’s cat-like anxiousness.

Most of the supporting players do fine work. Monk is at times a riot and at times quietly sensitive as the lady of the house. Emily Bergl is also effective as Brick and Maggie’s busybody (and fertile) sister-in-law, Mae.

As Big Daddy, Ciaran Hinds is much better than I had anticipated. My only other exposure to Hinds was his work in the recent USA miniseries Political Animals (co-starring current Picnic stars Sebastian Stan and Ellen Burstyn), and I thought he was plain awful in that. He came off as sleazy and inauthentic, but there was none of that here. He seemed to relish playing the foul-mouthed, larger-than-life Southern gentleman, even if he does look too young to play 65.

But for my money and yours, the real reason to see this is Benjamin Walker. Last seen on the New York stage in the short-lived Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Walker is in top form. His Brick is quiet and languid, and speaks with a lackadaisical cadence that make his rare growls mighty exciting. Walker simmers to a boil in act one and then explodes in act two when Brick and Big Daddy finally confront each other and old ghosts and new dark clouds come to a head. Walker’s performance is ferocious, passionate and simply terrific.


Learn more about the production and purchase tickets at catonahottinroofbroadway.com, and visit Broadwayworld.com to see production stills.

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