at the theatre: cat on a hot tin roof

cat on a hot tin roof

Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, currently being revived on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre with an ineffectual Scarlett Johannsson, has received so many underwhelming notices that I found myself last week at the theater in a most peculiar state: waiting for the curtain to go up with almost no anticipation or expectation. In effect, the evening had failed before it had even begun. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as a good state of mind to begin, approaching Rob Ashford’s production as a blank slate does strip the evening of the burden and baggage of memory. If anything, it affords the director an opportunity to recalibrate and restore the text. Elizabeth Taylor might be enshrined in our collective celluloid consciousness in a revealing white slip purring “Maggie the cat is alive!” but Ashford rightly understands that Williams’ parboiled Southern melodrama is really a family affair: a quartet of cats – to beat a metaphor to death – tails up, claws out, and braying for their rightful recompense. His misstep is an inability to find any subtlety in the evening. (Christopher Oram’s gorgeous mixed metaphor bedroom setting is part of the problem: who puts cats in a birdcage?) The drama unfolds in broad, flat strokes, like a table-read put on its feet far too soon. Fine performances from Ciaran Hinds, Benjamin Walker, and Debra Monk can’t mask the fact that the mendacity at the root of this family’s internecine conflict doesn’t have the power to shake us because it’s made so glaringly obvious to everyone except the people onstage. Big moments don’t land because they haven’t been earned. And often Ashford seems content to let the actors revel in Williams’ poetry, rather than connect it to the reality of the mise en scene. It seems that despite the best of intentions this cat’s in free-fall, struggling to find its feet.

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at the theatre: evita

You let down your people, Evita. You were supposed to have been immortal. That’s all we wanted – not much to ask for. Ok, maybe quoting Che Guevara’s sardonic funeral oration for Argentina’s first lady is a bit misdirected. To my mind Evita is immortal – but that’s in large part thanks to Hal Prince’s seminal production of a generation ago,  not to mention the star-making performances of Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin. (Yes, I age myself – at this point it’s unavoidable.) The question remains: is it Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita that we should cry for in its first ever Broadway revival or is it director Michael Grandage’s shambolic production? Does the fault lie with Elena Roger, the tiny-voiced, diminutive Argentine actress in the titular role? Or perhaps pop star Ricky Martin, who as the de-politicized Narrator née Guevara looks wholly uncomfortable in his own skin. Even Rob Ashford’s usually reliable choreography must come in for a bashing: in one number, The Art of the Possible, Juan Peron deftly vanquishes one general after another to propel himself into power. How does Ashford stage this? By having them awkwardly enact a series of half hearted Greco-Roman wrestling moves. It’s symbolic: this production flirts with a number of interesting ideas that get neither fully developed nor wholly abandoned, they just lie there like so much stagnant water. It’s hard to squarely pin the blame on any one individual because across the board everyone is off their game here, save the suave and golden-throated Max Von Essen as tango singer, Augustin Magaldi. It’s difficult to not feel for the two leads, either: Martin’s lack of stage experience isn’t served by stripping him of any discernible character. (The shift from Che Guevara to an anodyne Narrator is inexplicable. Are we to blame the anti-Castro theatergoing lobby?) And Roger tries hard but she lacks the powerhouse voice the role demands. Ultimately what this pointless revival makes all too clear is that at the Marquis Theatre there’s a thin line between immortality and ignominy.

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