This explosive new production of TENNESSEE WILLIAMS’ Pulitzer Prize-winning classic features a dynamic cast led by Academy Award nominee TERRENCE HOWARD, Tony Award winners PHYLICIA RASHAD and ANIKA NONI ROSE, and Academy Award nominee and two-time Tony winner JAMES EARL JONES. Renowned director and choreographer DEBBIE ALLEN directs.
In CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, a powerful Southern family gathers at a birthday celebration for patriarch Big Daddy (Jones), who does not know that he is dying of cancer. In a scramble to secure their part of his estate, family members hide the truth about his diagnosis from him and Big Mama (Rashad). Front and center as tensions mount are alcoholic former football hero Brick (Howard) and his beautiful but sexually frustrated wife Maggie “the Cat” (Rose); as their troubled relationship comes to a stormy and steamy climax, a shockwave of secrets are finally revealed.
Brimming with playwright’s trademark emotional intensity and insightful wit, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF is an American treasure. Don’t miss this bold new staging of TENNESSEE WILLIAMS’ rich and timeless family portrait.
Press / Reviews
When banker turned Broadway backer Roger Berlind, producer of Nine and Proof, was invited to a workshop for a frolicking musical satire about hapless American missionaries transported to a war-torn, AIDS-ridden village in modern Uganda, he was instantly, if improbably, won over. Mocking Mormonism, iPhones and American parochialism, the musical was in questionable taste. Nevertheless, “I was hooked in one second,” said Berlind. “I was ready to mortgage my house.” Read more…
Jan 18, 2013
Maggie is young and attractive, and she just wants to have sex with her hot husband — is that too much to ask? You can hardly blame her for being on edge: The man would rather spend his time in a boozy stupor than get cozy with his wife.
Frustrated and angry, Maggie (Scarlett Johansson) spends the entire first act of Tennessee Williams’ 1955 play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” alternately taunting and pleading with hubby Brick (Benjamin Walker, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”). But he refuses to engage her, and wanders about their bedroom clutching a drink as he obsesses over his dead friend, Skipper.
Johansson didn’t pick the easiest vehicle for her second Broadway appearance — this is a big jump from the supporting role in “A View From the Bridge” that won her a Tony.
While her performance often lacks nuance and starts off too shouty, the star eventually gains in confidence. Spitting out Williams’ florid lines in a low-throated growl reminiscent of the young Kathleen Turner (herself a Broadway “Cat” in 1990), Johansson successfully brings to the fore Maggie’s rough edges.
She constantly reminds us that her character is no Southern belle, but a girl who grew up “poor as Job’s turkey” and married into a rich Mississippi family — or rather a nouveau riche one, whose luxurious home can’t hide a festering nest of greed and envy.
And now she’s stuck there, with a tortured husband, a bland brother-in-law married to a smug “monster of fertility” (Michael Park, Emily Bergl), and a domineering patriarch.
In contrast to Brick, his autocratic father, Big Daddy (Ciarán Hinds), flaunts his virility. He boasts of always sleeping with his wife, Big Mama (Debra Monk, from “Curtains”), “and never even liked her, never did.”
But Big Daddy surprises us by being more accepting of Brick and Skipper’s intense relationship than the self-loathing Brick. Hinds and Walker dominate Act 2, beautifully bringing out the men’s fraught but strangely caring bond.
Then it’s Monk’s turn to surge, as Big Mama confronts her cancer-stricken husband’s mortality and the impending shift of power within the family.
“Cat” is like an opera in its overheated treatment of guilt, frustration and “mendacity,” and director Rob Ashford — better known for staging/choreographing musicals like “How To Succeed in Business” and “Promises, Promises” — treats it as such.
The actors constantly prowl Christopher Oram’s outsize set, so ginormous it might as well be at the Met Opera. The semicircular environment suggests a cage, with large windows but no walls: These people imprison themselves.
Despite occasional staging touches — the sounds of fireworks and playing children always seem to surge at momentous times — the show has a certain tragic inevitability. It’s a flawed but compelling picture of Southern discomfort.
Jan 17, 2013
A four-alarm urgency infuses every breath that Scarlett Johansson takes in the oxygen-starved revival of Tennessee Williams’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” that opened on Thursday at the Richard Rodgers Theater.
Ms. Johansson plays Maggie, the magnificent, ravenous title creature in this oft-revived Pulitzer Prize-winning 1955 play about truth and mendacity on a bourbon-soaked Southern plantation. And Maggie’s husband, the limp Brick (Benjamin Walker), gets it absolutely right when he tells her that her voice sounds “like you’d been running upstairs to warn somebody that the house was on fire!”
Well, why shouldn’t it sound that way? Maggie’s prospects of both a financially secure future and a satisfying sex life are in jeopardy, as her angry young husband drinks himself into a coma of indifference. It is also true that whoever plays this character needs the stamina and breath control of Wagner’s Brünnhilde to get through Maggie’s protracted opening aria of lust and lamentation without passing out.
Add to this list the anxiety that has to eat at a 28-year-old movie star required to hold a live audience’s attention pretty much by herself for the whole of a long first act. Ms. Johansson was terrific in her Broadway debut in Arthur Miller’s “View From the Bridge” three years ago, and she deserved the Tony she won for it.
But that was in a supporting, largely reactive role. Maggie is a front-and-center part, written in a poetic prose that approaches Shakespearean intricacy. And New York theatergoers are among the most unforgiving on the planet. If you were she, you’d be gasping too.
Fortunately, Ms. Johansson, like Maggie, seems to possess a confidence that can turn raw nerves into raw power. Her sophomore Broadway performance isn’t as fully integrated as the one she gave in “Bridge”; there are a few miscalculations in her take on Maggie. She is perhaps too forthright to be truly feline, and for a poor but well-brought-up debutante, her accent is strangely common. (At times she sounds like Hattie McDaniel as Mammy in “Gone With the Wind.”)
But Ms. Johansson confirms her promise as a stage actress of imposing presence and adventurous intelligence. Quibble all you want about the particulars of her performance. She obviously has a strong sense of what she wants to do here and the convictions to follow it through. Her Maggie is, as she must be, an undeniable life force and — as far as this production, directed by Rob Ashford, is concerned — a lifeline.
If I seem to be devoting disproportionate space to Ms. Johansson, it’s not just because she’s the most famous person in the room, or that Maggie (thanks to a steamy incarnation by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1958 film) is the play’s most famous character. Ms. Johansson is also the only major player in “Cat” who appears to have a fully thought-through idea of the character she’s portraying. With a palatial bedroom of a set by Christopher Oram and vivid period costumes by Julie Weiss, the show is as light on persuasive acting as it is saturated in Southern Gothic atmosphere.
That imbalance is perplexing, given the stature of the show’s other stars: Mr. Walker, the sexy, charisma-charged leading man of the musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” and the estimable veterans Debra Monk (a Tony winner for “Redwood Curtain”), as Brick’s fond and foolish mother, and Ciaran Hinds (a devil to remember in “The Seafarer”) as the ultimate filthy rich Southern patriarch, Big Daddy, whose terminal illness has his kinfolk gathering like vultures.
All these fine performers bring a snarling aggression to their parts (even Mr. Walker, when Brick is finally startled out of his pickled lethargy) that I suppose befits a play in which people are frequently characterized as rutting, territorial animals. (Michael Park and Emily Bergl give conventional Southern snake performances as Brick’s conniving brother and sister-in-law.)
But even when they raise their voices and square their shoulders, they seem to be marking time, as if hoping inspiration would strike and tell them how to say the next line. Yes, we’re told that Brick is drinking himself into oblivion because of the death of his best friend, Skipper, to whom he was suspiciously close; that Big Mama exists to please Big Daddy and dotes on Brick; and that Big Daddy is as filled with the hunger for living (which includes good ole sex) as Maggie.
But aside from the startling flashes of vulnerability that tear the carapace of Ms. Johansson’s Maggie, there’s scant evidence of subtext, of the thoughts behind the blustery facades. I doubt this is quite what Williams had in mind when he wrote, in the stage directions for “Cat,” that “some mystery should be left in the revelation of a character in a play.”
The second act, in which Brick and Big Daddy have one of the great father-son confabs in American theater, gives off sparks only when Mr. Walker and Mr. Hinds physically hit at each other, then collapse in an Oedipal heap on that big, dominating bed that occupies center stage (a reproachful reminder of Brick’s neglect of his husbandly duties).
Otherwise, the scene has the singsong prosiness of a petulant teenager and his old man having an everyday argument about Junior’s raiding the liquor cabinet again, albeit with a father who may possibly have mob ties. (Mr. Hinds’s delivery sometimes evokes a Southern variation on “The Sopranos.”) As much fun as Maggie’s soliloquies are in the first act, the soul of the play is here, as Brick and Big Daddy force each other to confront the evasions that cripple their lives.
Mr. Ashford — who is best known here for musicals (“Promises, Promises”) but staged an acclaimed version of Williams’s “Streetcar Named Desire” in London several years ago — doesn’t seem to trust his actors to deliver Williams’s poetry. So instead he imports it. The sound of fireworks exploding (in honor of Big Daddy’s birthday) is embarrassingly used to underscore revelatory lines.
The interpolation of a character playing the ghost of Skipper, who appeared in previews, has been mercifully exorcised. But Adam Cork’s sound design remains unnecessarily intrusive. Crucial dialogue is sometimes lost as the sound of servants singing spirituals and work songs (“Oh, lordy, pick a bale of cotton”) drifts from the wings.
And when a summer storm arrives, it’s the scenery-rattling, curtain-whipping kind you associate with vintage dark-house suspense movies. There’s lots of thunder and lightning, of course. But Mother Nature shouldn’t have to do the work of actors. In this production only Ms. Johansson suggests the tempest in the human heart.
Jan 17, 2013
Imagine one of the plucky little orphans of “Annie,” all grown up and fixing her sights on a sprawling Delta plantation, and you get an idea of the impression Scarlett Johansson makes in the shrill though not entirely uninteresting new Broadway revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
As opposed to some past Maggie the Cats — portrayed by actresses as varied as Elizabeth Ashley, Kathleen Turner and Anika Noni Rose — Johansson seems in director Rob Ashford’s production less a neurotic receptacle for Brick’s passive-aggressiveness than a resilient, battle-tested survivor, determined to break her husband’s celibate resolve.
It’s a choice, all right — an ingratiating one at that. And in this version of the Tennessee Williams play, which had its formal opening Thursday night at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, it comes across as of a piece with the other central performance, that of Ciaran Hinds, as Big Daddy. In Hinds’s rendition, the plantation patriarch is a growling dispenser of spite, the beast to Johansson’s beauty. I’ve never seen a “Cat” in which Big Daddy was quite so thuggish — or in which his appetite for Maggie was so blatantly on display.
The crudeness in Hinds’s interpretation sets the tone of one-dimensionality that characterizes much of Ashford’s staging, and in which Debra Monk’s Big Mama, a whooping, guffawing fool of a woman, also conspires. You’d never know that this big old house, in which Benjamin Walker’s matinee-idol Brick is committing suicide by distilled spirits, sheltered much in the way of finer feeling, or quieter desire.
And yet, despite its penchant for the histrionic, Ashford’s “Cat” is a better-rounded evening than either of the other plays that have opened on Broadway lately: Roundabout Theatre Company’s grating revival of William Inge’s “Picnic” and Manhattan Theatre Club’s overheated staging of the Laurie Metcalf star vehicle, “The Other Place.”
Under Sam Gold’s direction, the 1953 “Picnic” feels like some desultorily ancient variation on “Desperate Housewives,” in which the Kansas womenfolk hang out on porches, breathe heavily and ogle the local merchandise. That side of beefcake is portrayed on this occasion by Sebastian Stan, as one of those magnetic ’50s rebels, here buffed by Bowflex to modern superhero proportions. With such potent actresses as Ellen Burstyn and Elizabeth Marvel shoehorned into depressingly unctuous roles — only preternaturally melancholy Mare Winningham manages to breathe authentically here — the play lurches patronizingly from the portrait of one lonely woman to the next.
“The Other Place,” at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is a new play by Sharr White, about a brilliant scientist named Juliana in the grips of a brain-wasting disease that she herself happened to have been studying. In a fleet 80 minutes, it seeks, via Metcalf, to bring us into the eye of a terrifying storm: the chaos enveloping a highly disciplined if emotionally troubled mind. More contemplative works about women and illness, such as “Wit” (ovarian cancer) and “Wings” (stroke) have taken audiences on similar journeys. But while Metcalf has the intensity of presence to captivate us with Juliana’s plight, director Joe Mantello wires the proceedings so predictably for emotional explosions that we’re given precious little time for understanding the character and thus grasping what she’s going through.
At least in the new “Cat,” the sense of menace activated by Hinds’s Big Daddy provides a rationale for the mean-spiritedness spreading through his household like an oil slick. The husky-voiced Johansson, who won a Tony for her performance two years ago as the all-too-desirable dockworker’s niece in Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge,” holds her own here, managing a persuasive account of Maggie’s quick wits and pragmatic focus. What’s missing, though, is her drawing a bead on the character’s insecurities, the desperation that compels Maggie to cling to a lie — and to a man who reviles her. (Walker, who played a rock star president in the irreverent-history musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” lives up to his character’s name here, imbuing Brick with a stony, one-note sullenness.)
In a homestead where everything seems too spelled out, however, you wonder what has happened to the secrets. Even Christopher Oram’s set telegraphs its intention: the big bed Brick and Maggie do not share is by far its most prominent feature. At one point in the production’s evolution, the director went so far as to make a flesh-and-blood character out of Skipper, the unseen football teammate who killed himself over love for Brick.
Fortunately, that idea was abandoned during preview performances. It’s an indication, though, of what is still apparent: Where penetrating theatricality is concerned, this “Cat” scratches only the surface.