NEW YORK — 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,
Yet more curiously,
But a clear point of view is absent in this generally confused, low-stakes and halting production — that went through changes and subtractions in its preview period and now seems stuck. It's neither a traditional staging nor a suite of fresh ideas on a great American drama that should both embody timeless interpersonal truths and reflect how much our world is changed, sexually speaking, in little more than a half-century. The huge set, from Christopher Oram, is made up of doors rather than walls and it has an appealing fragility (the front drape has a gauzy, theatrical air, very much in the current mode of Williams revivals), but it also confuses the issues of privacy (or the lack thereof) that pockmark the script. If Brick and Maggie are so constantly visible to Big Daddy, Big Mama and the so-called "no-neck monsters," and if they all share a balcony that belongs to all, then we feel none of Maggie's boudoir frustration and humiliation. Here, she doesn't seem to really have a bedroom.
Ciaran Hinds, the accomplished actor playing Big Daddy, makes laudable efforts to avoid those pernicious Southern stereotypes of crudity and surety, and he has his moments of insight into the co-existence of power and mortality. And
And the "no-neck monsters " are hardly that; they look rather cute. They're closer to the offspring of Capt. Von Trapp than the ultimate nightmare of the sad-eyed, childless sensualists, sharing a fate they can't avoid.