If you ask the critics, this Cat doesn't purr.
Three years after she won a well-deserved Tony Award for her Broadway debut in Arthur Miller's View From the Bridge, Scarlett Johansson returns to the Great White Way starring as the ambitious, sexually ravenous Maggie in one of Tennessee Williams' greatest plays, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Alas, unlike her previous outing on the boards, which received near-universal praise, the reviews this time around were mixed, though that can be attributed less to the husky-voiced actress' surprisingly cerebral performance than to the noisy direction by Rob Ashford, and to some very loud sound effects.
Here's a roundup of what people are saying about the revival:
• "Ms. Johansson confirms her promise as a stage actress of imposing presence and adventurous intelligence. Quibble all you want about the particulars of her performance…Her Maggie is, as she must be, an undeniable life force and—as far as this production, directed by Rob Ashford, is concerned—a lifeline," wrote The New York TImes, raving about ScarJo but otherwise criticizing the show's lack of subtext.
• "Johansson is alarmingly one-note…her voice is raspy and lacks vitality; it has the musicality of a foghorn," countered the New York Daily News.
• "They...added cap guns, the sound of crickets, musical crescendos, ringing telephones, chiming clocks, thunder crashes and a mind-boggling nine songs, some sung while the action is happening. One more song and this show might be classified a musical," panned the Associated Press, noting Ashford's "ruckus distracts from some fine performances and a play that deserves—as must of the men in it also wish—silence sometimes."
• "Johansson has made some bold choices in the demanding role, aging herself with a coarsened, growling voice, knowing humor and a refusal to soften the character's abrasive edge. There's no kitten in her cat. But keeping Maggie's vulnerability hidden until the final act seems a mistake. Without the underlying wounds she's just a shrew," notes The Hollywood Reporter.
• "Ashford tilts his cast toward an admirable naturalism, avoiding the sitcommy approach that some productions take to a play stocked with some decidedly broad characters. For a Tony-winning choreographer, though, he blocks scenes in a somewhat awkward way," complained Entertainment Weekly.
• "Johansson puts up a hell of a fight in the first act, but even her radiance is no match for a staging that seems to absorb and diffuse heat as fast as the actors can generate it," offered Vulture.
• "In her much-anticipated star turn as one of the theater's juiciest women, she works so admirably to avoid Maggie-the-Cat cliches that the actress and the character almost disappear in sensitive, levelheaded, ladylike restraint," observed Newsday.