The revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof simply isn’t very good. Director Rob Ashford’s vision of the play is uneven, unclear and unfocused. On the plus side, he doesn’t do anything to distort the text (a well-publicized bit of experimentation I won’t particularize here was nuked during previews), but he doesn’t do anything to enhance it or drive it forward either.
Scarlett Johansson, as Maggie the Cat, proves she has a certain stageworthy versatility—she’s as different here from the working class teen she played in A View from the Bridge as can be—but you can barely understand what she’s saying through her rushed Southern accent; it doesn’t help that Ashford hasn’t helped her shade her long monologues effectively, so they come forth in a general wash of sound. (And I have to say it: watching Emily Bergl skillfully assay scheming sister-in-law Mae, I was desperate for them to switch roles; of the two, Ms. Bergl‘s persona and magnetism are much more suited to the role of a highly sexual, highly frustrated ticking bomb seeking explosion.) Benjamin Walker’s Brick mistakes a deadness of spirit for listlessness and only occasionally in the second half of the evening, emis bursts of his own angry frustration. (It pays to remember that in the original Broadway company, Brick was played first by Ben [Run for Your Life] Gazzara and then by Jack [“book him, Dano”] Lord, each in his way a ball of tension.) Irish actor Ciarán Hinds is, however, an excellent Big Daddy. But even he takes a while to warm up, because the production gives him so litte reason to catch fire upon entrance. The rest of the supporting cast (Michael Park and Debra Monk in particular) are likewise good but wasted.
Proportionately, the bedroom set design by Christopher Oram, gives an unintentional (?) illusion of near-vastness that discourages intimacy both among the performers, and between cast & audience. And during the storm sequence, the thunder-and-lightning sound design (Adam Cork), no doubt at the director’s behest, is so overdone and self-consciously symbolic that it borders on parodic. No, I take that back. It is parodic. Just not purposefully.
In general, the roof here is very lukewarm. And that tends not to make cats jump, but rather to curl up and purr contentedly. And if our Maggie here isn’t exactly content…she’s not precisely battling for her life either, and that’s the game. The metaphor is very unforgiving…
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