Sunday, January 27, 2013

Theater Review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Guest Review
By Misti Wills
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was last revived in a less than stirring production starring Ashley Judd in 2003.  The current production marks the straight play direction by musical director Rob Ashford and stars Scarlett Johansson as Maggie, Ciaran Hinds as Big Daddy, and Benjamin Walker as Brick. The real star of this production however, is Debra Monk as Big Mama. 

Cat can be described in one word: mendacity.  Everyone is lying about something, especially their relationships.  Big Daddy doesn’t “like” his wife Big Mama, His son Brick “can’t stand” his wife Maggie, his other son Gooper pretends to like his father and his wife Mae, though we suspect this apple also doesn’t fall far from the tree.   
Set in a gorgeously designed bedroom with sheer draped fabric curtains and high ceiling fans on a wealthy estate in the south (Christopher Oram, scenic design), the story of unhappiness unfolds.  Brick and Maggie have a loveless marriage because Brick’s best friend Skipper took his life when Brick hung up on him during a phone call where he confessed feelings outside of friendship. Before this,   Maggie suspected their relationship had crossed a line and she slept with Skipper for revenge. 
Brick is unable to forgive himself or her and spends the entire play drinking his life away.  He is stuck in many ways, especially since he got injured while running the night before and his foot is broken in a cast, leaving him only able to walk with a crutch.  Maggie is desperate to have a baby but Brick refuses to sleep with her and she is left to badger him to give in to her needs.   He simply tells her that if she feels like a “cat on a hot tin roof”, why not just jump off?  Neither, though clearly miserable, refuses to leave their marriage for either society’s sake or some sense of duty.

Big Daddy’s birthday is being celebrated and we find out that they thought he had cancer but the tests have come back negative and he only has a spastic colon.  Everyone except Big Daddy and Mama know the truth however, that in fact he does have cancer and it is terminal.The doctor later breaks the news to Big Mama with the support of everyone in the family except for Big Daddy. After verbally abusing everyone in the family, Big Daddy insults Big Mama in front of everyone and then is left alone for a talk with his favorite son, Brick. 
Brick and Big Daddy have a long discussion where they display a close relationship, despite their tense talk. Big Daddy favors Brick over Gooper and wants to know why Brick is drinking his life away. He finally gets the truth out from Brick about what happened with Skipper. In a drunken rage, Brick retaliates by telling Big Daddy the truth about his cancer.   
After all has been revealed, Gooper tries to get Big Mama to sign papers giving he and Mae and their five "no-neck" children the estate. She refuses and only wants to talk to Brick.  Brick tells Gooper to take it all, but Maggie wants to fight for their rights to the property too.  Big Daddy returns and in a moment of brilliant desperation, Maggie tells him she is pregnant with Brick’s child and he will have another heir.  The final moments of the play are Maggie and Brick in a rough embrace where we are not sure if they will try to make her lie come true or not.   
Johansson carries off the longing of Maggie to be loved and find her place, though it never quite reaches a deeper desperation stage.  Her chemistry with Brick is often off, mostly due to some awkward staging moments (Rob Ashford directs) trying to help him up when he can’t reach his crutches.  She misses the moments of where her longing could be excruciating like when he is close enough to touch her or undresses in front of her.     
Walker, last seen in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, has the stoniness of Brick and shows us the inheritance of verbal abuse he’s received, but also never quite connects deeply with the material. Of course, it’s difficult to connect when the action that is written is to simply drink and try to move without a crutch.  Walker's obvious physical prowess also makes it difficult to believe that this man can’t lift himself up without the use of a crutch. He has a beautiful scene with Big Daddy when the truth comes out about what happened with Skipper.  He says very clearly that he never struggled with homosexual feelings, though we are left wondering. 
Hinds (TV's "Game of Thrones") plays the southern tyrant with calculated ease.  Unlike other Big Daddy’s I’ve witnessed, he doesn’t shout while verbally abusing everyone but uses a steely calculated gaze and intimidating physique that could make all of the no-neck children terrified. His rapport with the amazing Debra Monk is stellar. They clearly are expert players here not missing a beat or intention in William’s language. Monk's response to his abuse is incredible -- she is at once ashamed and takes it in and yet also shows strength rising up in her to become someone new when he is gone. Her love for him is present in spite of the abuse and we can’t help but cheer for her.
All in all, the evening is an enjoyable one, presenting a clean production of a classic story.  Will it be remembered for years to come? Probably not, but it’s a roof worth staying on for three hours at the Richard Rodgers stage.
Cat plays through March 30 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 West 46th St., NYC. Tickets: 800-745-3000, 877-250-2929; http://www.catonahottinroofbroadway.com/.
Christians also might like to know:
-- Nudity
-- Language
-- God’s name taken in vain
-- Show posts a MATURE advisory
Misti Wills is an accomplished director, actress, adjunct professor of theater and member of The League of Professional Theatre Women. http://www.mistiwills.com/.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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