NEW YORK — Yes, Kathleen Turner is a tough, sexy and even funny Maggie in the respectable, occasionally riveting, revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" that opened Wednesday at Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theater.
But the heart of Tennessee Williams' Southern-fried Gothic melodrama belongs to Big Daddy, the dying patriarch of "28,000 acres of the richest land this side of the valley Nile."
Played with remarkable control by Charles Durning, Big Daddy is a seeker of truth, and truth is what "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" is all about. The truth has kept Maggie and her alcoholic husband, Brick, apart. Brick, Big Daddy's favorite son, is an aging golden boy whose luster has begun to tarnish. He drinks his days away, hoping to hear "the click" that will help him forget a promising football career and the relationship he had with Skipper, his now-dead best friend.
The truth is what everyone is trying to hide from Big Daddy who has been told his stomach troubles are nothing more than a spastic colon. But reality is revealed in a long second act confrontation between Brick and Big Daddy. The father forces his son to look into the past and the son inadvertently tells the father about the future.
It's a powerful moment, particularly as played by Durning and Daniel Hugh Kelly as the doomed Brick. Brick is something of a cipher, but Kelly manages to make him a sympathetic person. And Durning is at his best, alternatively flamboyant and sensitive. It's a remarkable juggling act.
Turner controls the play's first and third acts. There's an intelligence and a steely determination to her portrayal of Maggie, particularly when she is defending her own interests.
Director Howard Davies' approach to the play is traditional. There are no surprises or revelations but then nothing goes wrong either.
What other critics said:
Frank Rich, The New York Times: It takes nothing away from Kathleen Turner's radiant Maggie in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" to say that Broadway's gripping new production of Tennessee Williams' 1955 play will be most remembered for Charles Durning's Big Daddy.
Clive Barnes, New York Post: Turner, mocking yet fearful, sassily funny yet itchy with desires that go beyond sex, and the all but innocent victim of a family in perpetual and hateful crisis, is giving a performance to cherish, in a play to revalue.
David Richards, Washington Post: This Maggie is more a tiger lily than a magnolia. While Turner's vigor guarantees a good, scrappy fight to the finish, it also contributes to the poetic shortfall.