This is a good, solid, production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Is it brilliant or in any way definitive? No. Much like the 2008 revival it is far from perfect, but it is for certain a similarly strong attempt at this difficult show – from a decidedly different angle – and well worth seeing.
The play forcefully portrays the Pollitts, a wealthy, dysfunctional Mississippi family, including the larger-than-life characters of Maggie “the Cat” (Scarlett Johansson) her alcoholic (and possibly closeted) husband, Brick (Benjamin Walker), and the blustery, foul-mouthed family patriarch, Big Daddy (Ciarán Hinds).
Director Rob Ashford is nothing if not detail-oriented, and nothing in this production seems rushed or not thought-through. However, it misses what the less detailed 2008 production had in spades: the heat behind it all. Scarlett Johansson delivers Maggie’s fierce rage with claws flying, but the lust and, more importantly, genuine love she feels for Brick feels glossed over.
Walker is in many ways the best Brick I’ve seen, hitting every mark in this complex, deceptively passive role. But again, the heat is missing a bit: we should at least see the occasional glimmer of the old good-humored Brick to give us a better sense why everybody loves this stoic drunk. Hinds isn’t quite the life force that James Earl Jones was as Big Daddy, but – in what is easily the evening’s strongest performance – he does a better job capturing the awkward distance a macho Southern patriarch feels when dealing with a son he loves but doesn’t understand.
Make no mistake, Cat is as complex and difficult a play to conquer as any of Shakespeare’s tragedies. If we were to combine the virtues of this production and the 2008 version, then we’d get a Cat that would approach the brilliance of Tennessee Williams’s original conception. But to be fair, we have to realize that is an incredibly tall order.
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