Scarlett Johansson shines in lukewarm revival
- 18 January 2013
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Critics were left unimpressed by Rob Ashford's Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
But Scarlett Johansson has won praise for her "imposing presence" as Maggie in the Tennessee Williams play.
"The star and her similarly marooned fellow cast members are all at the mercy of Rob Ashford, a director out of his depth," wrote David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter.
While the New York Times' Ben Brantley dubbed it "an oxygen-starved revival".
However, Mr Brantley - arguably Broadway's leading critic - deemed Johansson "a stage actress... of adventurous intelligence".
"Quibble all you want about the particulars of her performance," he wrote. "She obviously has a strong sense of what she wants to do here and the convictions to follow it through."
Writing in the Telegraph, Mark Hughes said audiences "will not be disappointed" by Johansson's "charismatic, if at times, slightly breathless performance", while Mark Kennedy, of the Associated Press, said the star "turns in a nifty turn as Maggie, finding humour and barely hidden desperation in her role as frustrated wife and mother-to-be".
But not all critics were so fulsome in their praise of The Avengers star, whose films include Lost in Translation and the recently released Hitchcock film.
Entertainment Weekly's Thom Geier admired Johansson's "fierce, fighting spirit" in the role, but added, "for a movie star with major sex-appeal, she falls surprisingly short in seductiveness. Her Cat flashes her claws, but doesn't purr."
While Brendan Lemon, of the Financial Times, described her portrayal as "modestly accomplished" but lacking "little insight into the character".
The production marks Johansson's return to the theatre following her widely acclaimed Broadway debut in Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge in 2010, which won her a Tony award.
It features a cast of established theatrical names including Ciaran Hinds, as Big Daddy, and Benjamin Walker as Maggie's estranged husband Brick.
Critics were almost unanimous in their criticism of Ashford, who previously directed Rachel Weisz in an acclaimed production of Williams' Streetcar Named Desire in London's West End.
Many complained of the overuse of sound effects and lack of subtlety with the text, with Chris Jones, of the Chicago Tribune, calling it a "low-stakes and halting production".
"Ashford displays a tin ear for the vigorous musicality of Williams' flavorful dialogue," said the review in The Hollywood Reporter. "Lest the subtext should breeze over someone's head, every bit of key dialogue is underlined with a sonic mallet."
"Even when they raise their voices and square their shoulders, they [the cast] seem to be marking time, as if hoping inspiration would strike and tell them how to say the next line," wrote the New York Times' Brantley.
"Aside from the startling flashes of vulnerability that tear the carapace of Ms. Johansson's Maggie, there's scant evidence of subtext, of the thoughts behind the blustery facades."
"In this production only Ms. Johansson suggests the tempest in the human heart."