Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

photo: John Huba

After the last Broadway revival I didn't think I would ever need to see this old Tennessee Williams three-acter again - how many times can one watch Big Daddy work himself up over mendacity or hear Maggie seethe over those little no-neck monsters? - but this new all-black production is, a couple of weeks into previews, immensely entertaining and in some small ways revelatory. Let's get the minor complaints out of the way first: director Debbie Allen overdoes the effect of isolating some of the monologues with a spotlight - it's fine the first two times but distracting after that - and there is still some fine-tuning to be done with a couple of the lead performances and with balancing the comedic with the dramatic. Yet at this stage of the game there's every reason to believe that this Cat will be a big crowd-pleasing hit, not least of all because (unlike the other ten productions I've seen over the years) the center of its focus is where it makes the most sense: more on Brick than on Maggie. (Brick takes the last bow, for those keeping score at home, and Maggie fourth to last) The startling thing about this production is not that race recontextualizes the story - it doesn't - but that these actors deliver the lines in ways that are different than I've heard before. That's something of a small shock, since the conventional wisdom is that Williams' heightened language demands a highly specific rhythm. Thanks partly to that, and also in small part to the production's rare use of Williams' revisions which put the F word liberally in Big Daddy's mouth, the production has vitality and excitement. I don't want to be too specific about the performances, as this was an early preview, but I will say this: Anika Noni Rose, Terrence Howard, James Earl Jones, and Phylicia Rashad are all going to be Tony-nominated. I'd put cash down on that.

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