Review of reviews: Stage

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Broadhurst Theatre, New York

(212) 239-6200

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“Theatergoers can—and surely will—argue about the historical logic of an all-black Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” said Linda Winer in Newsday. Tennessee Williams’ legendary 1955 swelterer has seen its share of remakes over the years, but none quite this daring. First-time director Debbie Allen reimagines the Pollitts, that most dysfunctional family of white Mississippi plantation owners, as “noveau-riche blacks” in some vague post–Civil Rights Act era. That conceit comes loaded with logistical problems, which Allen doesn’t exactly solve. But she at least keeps them from getting in the way, and putting A-list black actors in these roles pays unexpected dividends. “Without the reverse casting, we would have never seen James Earl Jones as a shattering Big Daddy.”

Watching Jones “tear through that giant-size part is like standing in the path of a cannonball,” said Terry Teachout in The Wall Street Journal. From the moment that Jones’ cigar-puffing patriarch strides onstage, you can’t watch anyone else—which is a good thing, since the rest of the production “borders on the downright amateurish.” Anika Noni Rose plays Maggie the Cat as pure sex, but leaves out the cornered ferocity so crucial to both character and play. Terrence Howard’s much-anticipated Broadway debut, as the fallen golden-boy Brick, turns out to be “slack, flat, and underprojected.” Fortunately, Phylicia Rashad is affecting as Big Mama.

“It’s amazing that Debbie Allen’s starry production can have so much plain wrong with it, yet still delight,” said John Heilpern in The New York Observer. Allen makes some rookie mistakes: The set is lackluster, the lighting enervating, and the decision to bring a saxophone player onstage during interludes beyond baffling. The show’s success is due to her actors. Howard’s voice may, at times, barely register above the clink of ice cubes in his whiskey glass. But his Brick is “the most broken and uncompromisingly drunk” portrayal of the character I’ve ever seen. And if you get to experience the “wave of love” that Jones receives from the audience, “you’ll count yourself lucky.”

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