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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Broadhurst

By Matt Windman

  Anika Noni Rose and Terrence Howard/PH: Joan Marcus

What exactly makes Debbie Allen qualified to direct this revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof? The Fame actress has directed only a handful of musical projects. And while Cat is one of playwright Tennessee Williams' most engrossing dramas, it is extremely hard to get right.

Is this a result of nepotism? Allen is the sister of Phylicia Rashad, the Big Mama of the play. The show was supposed to be directed by Kenny Leon and star Audra McDonald. Rumor has it that the producer wanted an actress with more celebrity, which effectively ruined the original creative team.

To be frank, Debbie Allen's staging is terrible. Just plain awful and amateurish. This is not to say that an all-black production of the play is a bad idea in an way. Here, it is just poorly executed.

Allen treats the drama like a TV sitcom, overemphasizing the humor at the expense of subtlety. And when we reach a monologue, she awkwardly shines a spotlight on the actor and dims the light on everyone else. For no obvious purpose, the bedroom set is cluttered with countless pieces of furniture. And why is there a saxophone player in the audience?

Anika Noni Rose is 35 years old, but looks 22 and far too pure and prim to believably play a rough and tough gal like Maggie the Cat. Clad in a hot yellow dress displaying ample cleavage, she appears more like a model than a character who grew up in abject poverty.

As for Terrence Howard, he's terrible as Brick. We would say his acting is as wooden as the character's crutch, but here the crutch is anachronistically made of titanium. Allen has reset the play, which premiered in 1955, in the present. Not a bad idea, but she awkwardly messes traditional and modern designs together.

So where does this leave pros like James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad? Their skills go down the toilet, which is where this revival belongs.


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