As Tennessee Williams understood better than almost any other scribe who ever stared down a typewriter, anger and need are not the same thing.
In a lousy marriage, such as the one between Margaret and Brick in Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” the two get conflated, of course, as anyone who has screamed at a partner in frustration from some unmet desire well knows.
But like most of Williams’ struggling souls, Maggie isn’t annoyed in the way one gets annoyed, say, when one’s deal isn’t honored or one’s plane is overbooked. She and her handsome, athletic hubby are both trapped in a hot mess of pain, unable to mutually twist their bodies in a way that might bring at least one of them some relief.
To put it simply, the unaccountable absence of that understanding is what torpedoes director Rob Ashford’s struggling Broadway revival of this fiendishly difficult, Pulitzer Prize-winning drama from 1955. Scarlett Johansson, whose star persona was part of the raison dâetre for this production, looks like a million dollars in designer Julie Weiss’ beautiful dress and, unlike so many young movie stars, she has no problem expanding her performance chops to the live theater, booming out a character that has been precisely forged and defined but ill-advisedly contained.
One can discern this Maggie’s unhappiness; Johansson is in an energetic rage throughout. And yet, what’s missing is the vulnerability that causes a woman who well knows she is beautiful to throw off her very dignity and, well, beg for attention.
Hardly walking on scorching tin, this Maggie doesn’t really seem to need anything from anyone; you don’t believe that any of those around her could stop her present trajectory, which feels entirely of her own design.