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Scarlett Johansson in Tennessee Williamsí "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" at the Richard Rodgers Theatre
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Scarlett Johansson in Tennessee Williamsí "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" at the Richard Rodgers Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Stuart Thompson
Jon B. Platt, The Araca Group, Roger Berlind
et al.

Scarlett Johansson
CiarŠn Hinds, Benjamin Walker
Tennessee Williamsí
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
(Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Website)

Directed by Rob Ashford

Richard Rodgers Theatre
226 West 46th Street

Debra Monk
Emily Bergl, Michael Park
Vin Knight, Brian Reddy

and an ensemble of actors
plus a quartet of background musicians

Scenic Design: Christopher Oram
Costume Design: Julie Weiss
Lighting Design: Neil Austin
Composer & Sound Design: Adam Cork
Wig and Hair Design: Paul Huntley
Casting: Daniel Swee
Fight Direction: Rick Sordelet
Production Stage Manager: Lisa Dawn Cave
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Production Management: Aurora Productions
General Management: STP/Patrick Gracey

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 13, 2013 Matinee

My breathless anticipation of the new Broadway production of Tennessee Williamsí Cat on a Hot Tin Roof turned to a huge, slow sigh of disappointment, when, throughout Act I, I could barely decipher Scarlett Johanssonís endless diatribes and hoarse whining, especially when she faced stage rear (Adam Cork designed sound). Ms. Johansson, as Maggie (Margaret), is a fabulous screen actress, known for sensual and sexy close-ups and swift, witty repartee. Her film career is impressive and award-worthy. But this almost three-hour play has a lengthy Act I, with Maggie begging her near naked husband, Brick (Benjamin Walker), hopping on crutches and holding his bourbon, to get himself onto their bed. And, in Christopher Oramís scenic design, that bed is center stage during all three Acts and all three hours. Itís an expansive, cushioned prop, amidst expansive filmy curtains and windows that double as doors that triple as dizzying entrances and exits for the entire cast. Itís easy to compare any and all Maggies to Elizabeth Taylorís portrayal in the 50ís film, opposite Paul Newman as Brick, but I also compared this Maggie to the 2008 Broadway Maggie of Anika Noni Rose, opposite Terrence Howard as Brick. Now, those actors sizzled and broiled.

Maggie and Brick Pollitt live with the wealthy Pollitt family on their Mississippi estate. Brickís recent, drunken athletics on a football field shone a bright light on his depression and detachment, especially his emotional and physical estrangement with Maggie. Now Brick and Maggie stand to lose inheriting Big Daddy (CiarŠn Hinds) and Big Mamaís (Debra Monk) estate to the older Pollitt brother, Gooper (Michael Park), and wife, Mae (Emily Bergl), who breed like geese. Their gaggling brood of ďno-necked monstersĒ, as Maggie named them, dash about in truly annoying cacophony. If only Maggie were pregnant, Big Daddy might choose Brick as main heir, and if only Brick would want Maggie again, and so on. A related, oblique theme involves Brickís source of depression, as his drinking began with the death of his best friend, Skipper, a football buddy with whom Brick traveled, roomed, and drank. Gooper stars for a few minutes with his legal briefs, attempting to intimidate Big Mama into signing away Brickís rights, and Mae has her star turn in devious, cynical remarks, intended to shatter any remaining credibility or affection for her alcoholic brother-in-law and his melancholy wife. Added to the mix are Reverend Tooker (Vin Knight), who tries to calm Big Mama, when she learns of Big Daddyís terminal disease, and Doctor Baugh, who, more or less, functions in the same role. A variety of servants enter and exit those tall window-doors and chant gospels in the wings, in whispering tones.

Ms. Johansson, playing Williamsí critical character, needed to work with a dialect coach (none listed) to perfect an intelligible, well-bred, crisp Southern accent. Her slinky silk slip in Act I seemed pedestrian, as she sauntered about the bed, almost chanting her lines. Her tightly starched blond wig (Paul Huntley design) did not help, nor did Rob Ashfordís direction, that seemed to rob her of the fire in the belly, so memorable in the Taylor film and the 2008 all African-American production. Again, Ms. Johansson played Maggie as melancholy, when she should have been lusty. Mr. Walker, as Brick, also lacked the charisma that would have sparked Maggieís flame. He was too passive, too introverted, or maybe it was a case of chemistry-challenge. Mr. Hinds, as Big Daddy, came into his own in a fight scene (coached by Rick Sordelet) with Brick, as Big Daddy is determined to get Brick to reveal more about Skipper and his motive for self-abuse. Yet, Mr. Hinds did not have the depth and natural heft of Burl Ives (in the film) or James Earl Jones (in the 2008 Broadway play). However, Debra Monk, as Big Mama, the emotionally abused and neglected, long-time spouse, held her own with striking aplomb, especially in the watershed scene with Gooper and his busy legal satchel. At this point, I look forward to catching the MGM film as soon as possible.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at