AP Photo/Boneau/Bryan-Brown, Joan Marcus
Whenever a Hollywood celebrity ventures onto Broadway, the same question arises. Can an actor who stands out on screen translate his or her talent to the stage? The answer: Not necessarily.
Yet Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation), whose visage features prominently on the promotional materials for Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, has already proven herself a respectable player in the theatre world. Her 2009 Broadway debut in Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge garnered widespread critical acclaim and won Johansson a Tony Award.
This time around, Johansson is attempting to fill bigger shoes. Her role as the feisty Maggie has been played by a number of actresses over the years, including Elizabeth Taylor in the 1958 movie adaption. Johansson’s task — the task of any actor dealing with an iconic role — was to add her own nuances to the famous character.
The famous Tennessee Williams play, set on “Big Daddy” Pollitt’s plantation, explores several dynamics within Big Daddy’s household. It particularly focuses on the strained relationship between Brick, Big Daddy’s son, and his wife Maggie. Tension is not exclusive to their relationship; the entire family is in a difficult situation. It is Big Daddy’s birthday, and everyone knows that Big Daddy is dying of cancer—that is, everyone but Big Daddy and Big Mama.
The show boasts a fine ensemble. Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) plays the alcoholic Brick with the aloof yet observant demeanor of a man trying to detach from reality because he is disgusted with what he sees. Both Debra Monk (The Devil’s Advocate) and Ciarán Hinds (Munich), who play Big Mama and Big Daddy respectively, are seasoned actors. Their experience shows. Although some have criticized Monk for a generally shrill delivery, her loudness did not prevent me from pitying the character. Hinds, however, was the show stand-out. He embodies Big Daddy’s brusque, no-nonsense character perfectly. Even his mean-spirited remarks come off as humorous. Whenever Hinds walked on stage, he commanded the scene. (Fun fact for any Harry Potter fans: Hinds played Aberforth Dumbledore in the final Harry Potter film.)
As for Johansson, I do not think this is the actress’s best work. Her Southern accent was shaky at times, though it improved as the play went on. She plays on all of the frustration and anger of Maggie “the Cat,” but she does not take enough advantage of the character’s softer moments. What we see is what we get: a bitter, determined woman trying to make the most of a loveless marriage. There are more shades to Maggie — shades that do not yell or bark, for example — but Johansson does not explore them.
The only cast member to greet fans at the stage door was, unsurprisingly, Scarlett Johansson. After watching the show, this was rather disappointing. Audiences will come for Scarlett Johansson, but they will walk away impressed by her talented co-stars — and it is her co-stars that many will hope to see once the show has ended.