B Reviewed: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

B-Review: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Written by:
Dontré Conerly

Ask any music theatre actor who has the tougher job between Broadway actors and television actors and he will likely delineate that it's the Broadway star who has it rougher. The combined elements of a live audience, no chance for outtakes, and no cameras to transmit action to the very back or top of an audience, means that a star of the stage has to act (indeed, overact) under some very strenuous conditions. It's always an irony, and a wonder, that they never really achieve the same level of fame (and pay?) as their television counterparts, even when those actors commit their parts to the screen in adaptations of Broadway plays.

The revival of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof combined veterans of both the screen and theatre, and tapped some of the best names of Black Hollywood and Black Broadway. Drawing its talent from three Tony winners and an Oscar-nominated movie star, the play received critical claim for the storyline as much as its headliners. Yet, even though Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer prize winning play is billed as an exuberant tour-de-force and marks Broadway veteran, Debbie Allen's, directorial debut, its three hours of slow-moving action and circuitous dialogue can make Cat On A Hot Tin Roof as uncomfortable as wearing a wool sweater on a hot, humid summer day.
Confined to an unchanging, single-room set on the Pollitt family's Mississippi estate, Cat is a play that deals with family turmoil in the wake of its patriarch's impending death. James Earl Jones commands the stage as "Big Daddy," a successful sharecropper-cum-plantation owner whose decision it is to divide the family assets amongst his two male heirs, both who seem incapable of running the family business. Giancarlo Esposito convincingly brings to life the emasculated "Gooper," who plays second-string to a headstrong (if not gold-digging) wife. It is Gooper's misfortune that though the eldest of the Pollitt children, he will likely be overlooked for the family's inheritance in lieu of "Brick," a indifferent drunkard played by Terrance Howard. While Brick outshines his sibling in the eyes of his father, Esposito bests Howard in the portrayal of their respective characters.

Primarily tasked with copious drinking throughout the production, Howard's turn on the stage leaves much to be desired. Unlike his seasoned co-stars, he struggles to set the tone of a scene, and has a hard time calling up the proper emotions, which sometimes left members of the audience laughing when the dialogue was gravely dramatic. Given the title role, one would have expected Howard to shine brightly like the star that he believes himself to be; instead, the audience watched him get upstaged by his co-stars, most notably by Tony-winner Anika Noni Rose.
Rose gives a burning-hot performance as the female lead, "Maggie," the scorned better-half to "Brick." Her rapid-fire delivery of biting dialogue is executed with stealth, heart, and passion that truly draws in the audience. Locked in a loveless marriage to Brick, Maggie's intensity is fueled by repeated rejections to her attempts at intimacy, and, indeed, an almost festering hatred from her husband, who battles talk and innuendos of an improper relationship with friend, "Scooter." Rose's performance steals the show and carries the first half of the play, but the play slumps into a monotonous drag soon thereafter. Even when the graceful Phylicia Rashad, "Big Momma," lends her talents, the action is only spiced for a few precious moments before being dragged down by the unbelievable plot and the seeming ineptitude of the characters.

Cat On A Hot Tin Roofe primarily showcases feline fury in a masterful piece that is simply anachronistic for today's climate. It's hours-long central dilemma could be shored up with an edited script that seeks to move the action along instead of repeating the core conflict. True to expectations, leading Broadway veterans live up to their tenor, but the lone movie-actor didn't quite fit his role. We may have gotten some insight, however, into his inadequacy with his recent comments, which suggests that the rigours of Broadway are too much for him. "Tough thing about Broadway is eight shows a week. It's slavery. That needs to be adjusted. It's wrong."
Theatre-goers may not get to see Howard grace the stage anymore, unless they change the schedules to shorten the work week. "I wouldn't do Broadway again if it's more than five a week. I'd just say no. N-O. Not doing it. I'm not saying it has to be my way. I'm saying they can get somebody else." Interestingly enough, the directors did get someone else when Howard scheduled a work-related leave; his role was played by popular film star Boris Kodjoe.

The limited-run engagement of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof closes on June 22, 2008. The show plays at the Broadhurst Theatre, located at 235 West 44th St. For more information, please call 1.800.BROADWAY.

Dontré L. Conerly is a freelance journalist, blogger, and social critic. Currently, he is the News & Culture editor for BLEU magazine and authors a weekly column on their website, entitled Entre Nous. His writings commonly appear in amNY, one New York City's most widely-read daily newspapers. Conerly graduated from New York University with a Bachelor's in Journalism and Communications studies. A native of New Orleans, LA, he currently resides in historic Harlem, NY.

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