NEW YORK (AP) — The creative team behind the Broadway revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" has apparently concluded that Tennessee Williams' script needed more fireworks. So they went ahead and added them.
They also added cap guns, the sound of crickets, musical crescendos, ringing telephones, chiming clocks, thunder crashes and a mind-boggling nine songs, some sung while the action is happening. One more song and this show might be classified a musical.
Whether all the sound effects are meant to enhance the performances onstage or cover up the acting is unclear. What's not unclear is that an unnecessarily noisy production opened Thursday at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. The ruckus distracts from some fine performances and a play that deserves — as most of the men in it also wish — silence sometimes.
Scarlett Johansson turns in a nifty turn as Maggie, finding humor and barely hidden desperation in her role as frustrated wife and mother-to-be. She's less overtly sexy than other actresses who have played the ironic role, making her Maggie more cerebral, angry and proud.
Benjamin Walker, as her husband Brick, is slow to boil but savage when he does, a former athlete turned into a languid hunk of beef who sits on the edges of the stage avoiding conversation and hiding in a bottle. They have little chemistry at first — but that's kind of the point.
The older couple in this three-act melodrama — Debra Monk as Big Mama and Ciaran Hinds as Big Daddy — are excellent as a long-married pair whose love has turned poisonous. Emily Bergl as the scheming Mae is also first-rate. You won't believe Hinds is Irish, so wonderfully does he capture a Southerner whose genteel facade dissolves.
But who can hear any of the actors through this din? Fireworks meant to underscore lines in the text are not needed and come off sounding cheap. The 1958 film with Elizabeth Taylor had music, but did this revival have to as well? Isn't it a little overwrought to have servants singing during a storm? Rob Ashford is remarkably talented, with the latest "Evita" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" on his resume. But this is, to put it in appropriate terms, gilding the lily.
"Cat," first seen in New York in 1955, tells the tale of one family's machinations to control some prime Mississippi Delta farmland. They've gathered to celebrate the 65th birthday of the patriarch, Big Daddy, who does not know he's dying of cancer.
Brick is mourning the death of good friend Skipper and the ambiguity of their relationship, which not only haunts him but Maggie as well. Brick retreats into booze, leaving Maggie alone to fend off her greedy in-laws and their "no-neck monster" children eager to take control of ailing Big Daddy's extensive land holdings.
To be fair to a show that tries to expose mendacity, Ashford does a great job ratcheting up the paranoia, as Christopher Oram's beautiful set featuring four huge French windows and billowing curtains seem always visited by figures listening in.
The director's handling of five dancing children is nicely done and Brick, suffering a broken ankle, trying to escape confrontation by hobbling across every corner of the set like a wounded animal is strongly choreographed.
But Ashford should just have let Tennessee Williams handle the fireworks.
Follow Mark Kennedy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits