Johansson 'more tigress than kitty' in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Jan 18, 2013

Critics praise Scarlett Johansson's performance but complain that she is drowned out by the soundtrack

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SCARLETT JOHANSSON has impressed critics with her first return to theatre since her Tony-winning performance three years ago as Catherine in A View From the Bridge.

Johansson stars as Maggie the 'cat' in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which examines the relationships within the family of a wealthy cotton tycoon in the Mississippi Delta.

Johansson, who spends much of the first act of the play dressed in nothing but a slip, is expected to draw in the crowds to Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York – and they won't be disappointed, writes Mark Hughes in the Daily Telegraph.

Like Elizabeth Taylor in the 1958 film version of the play, Johansson delivers "a charismatic, if at times slightly breathless, performance", says Hughes.

"Affecting a very passable Southern accent, [Johansson's] Maggie flits between rage at the fact her husband no longer seems even to like her, and sorrow that she cannot force him to. In between, there are moments of genuine comedy that drew loud laughs and applause," he adds.

The New York Times says Johansson "seems to possess a confidence that can turn raw nerves into raw power", while Bloomberg describes her Maggie as "more tigress than the kitty so often portrayed in this role".

But critics have warned that the actors risk being drowned out by the play's soundtrack.

The creative team has added a soundtrack of fireworks, cap guns, the sound of crickets, chiming clocks, thunder crashes and nine songs. A mention of glory days on the football field prompts the eerie echo of a cheering crowd, while talk of a fateful phone-call triggers a ghostly ringing.

"Somebody spayed the cat," says David Rooney at the Hollywood Reporter. And it wasn't the "hard-working" main attraction Johansson.

"The star and her similarly marooned fellow cast members are all at the mercy of Rob Ashford, a director out of his depth and reaching for any flotation device he can grab in this sinking Broadway revival, which manages to be both thunderously emphatic and curiously flat."

The production's "cluttered audio" means the actors are forced to compete against busy sounds and music cues, says Rooney. "As a result, the humour often doesn't land and the dramatic peaks tend to fly by unnoticed."

Johansson is "cerebral, angry and proud" says the Washington Post, but asks "who can hear any of the actors through this din?"

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