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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

nytheatre.com review by Sarah Congress
January 23, 2013

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Scarlett Johansson in a scene from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof | Joan Marcus

The curtain draws open to reveal the instigator of anguish, anxiety, addiction, accusation, and attack. The bed. Where the barren Maggie and Brick sleep, day after day, night after night, under the family’s penetrating eye. Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, presented at the Richard Rodgers Theatre under the direction of Rob Ashford, proves that this tremendously well-written play can withstand the passing of time. The juicy, decadent dialogue, and dynamic, compelling characters, still has the capacity to dazzle audience’s years and years later.

Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955, tells the story of Big Daddy, a wealthy plantation owner reaching the end of his reign, his former football star son, Brick, a man who withdraws both physically and emotionally from his beautiful wife, Maggie. The more Maggie struggles for intimacy, the more Brick withdraws. Gooper, Big Daddy’s other son, and his wife Mae eye the estate greedily, while Big Mama, Big Daddy’s high-strung wife, runs around fussing over Big Daddy’s 65th birthday celebration.

Act one is a painful but riveting dialogue between Maggie, Scarlett Johansson, and her husband Brick, Benjamin Walker, during Big Daddy’s birthday celebration at the multi-million-dollar estate in Mississippi. Scarlett Johansson successfully captures Maggie’s stubborn determination and passion during several rounds of it with her husband—personifying the cat that refuses to jump off the hot tin roof. However, her voice is hoarse and coarse, without much change in vocal inflections, and her mannerisms are a bit too young, girly, and pin-up-like. She is, as expected, undeniably beautiful, curvy, and sensual. I just would have liked the actress to rely less on lip pouting and hip swishing and more on strength, intelligence, and compassion. Benjamin Walker is a very despondent Brick. Denial, guilt, and shame are written all over his sad face. In Act two, when Big Daddy questions Brick about the true nature of his intimate relationship with Skipper—Brick’s recently deceased football colleague and best friend— he appears utterly heart-broken and lost. I have often found it hard to sympathize with the somewhat cold and calculated Brick—yet in this production—my heart went out to him. Big Daddy, played by Ciaran Hinds, was dry, sharp, and often times endearing. Yet I felt, just like with Scarlett Johansson, there isn’t much variety in his voice—just a lot of screaming.

The set is simple but effective. A glorious glittering chandelier hangs from the ceiling over the magnificent master bed, with a small vanity table, chairs, liquor bottles and glasses everywhere. However, it is mentioned in the play that Brick sleeps on a couch in the bedroom…yet there is no couch. Also, in the script, the sister’s children are described as “no-neck-monsters,” but when the five children dashed elegantly onstage, each with swan-like necks and ballerina bodies, I was a little confused.

Also confusing is the transition music. At the end of Act one, when Maggie rushes to Brick’s side announcing worriedly that the others are coming, the lights dimmed and music that I can only describe as under the genre of sci-fi or horror, blasted. Not really appropriate with the tone. The music at the end of Act two was very melodramatic; it made me feel like I was watching a soap opera right before its commercial break. On the other hand, the costumes, designed by Julie Weiss, are very clean and fitting. I especially like Big Mama’s purple lace evening dress and the maid’s costumes, as they are realistic for the time period.

Despite several unfitting choices, I was never taken out of the show. Because the play is absolutely brilliant—heartfelt, tender, real, and engaging. Tennessee Williams’ is a great playwright, and I predict that Cat on a Hot Tin Roof will continue to stun audiences for years to come.