One of my best friends was in town for a brief visit, so even though we were both completely worn out and tired, we had one hell of a night out on the town.
After a mad scramble to get theater tickets (I was in line for Book of Mormon standing room tickets up on 49th while she was in line for student rush tickets for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on 46th), she secured us two fourth row seats to one of the greatest plays ever written.
We had some time to kill and were starving, so we opted for sushi. Somehow this was my first sushi since moving to New York and it was the same restaurant she had last year during the week that was our crazy New Years/seeing Darren Criss on Broadway in H2$ multiple times (she saw it twice, I saw it three times). We sat down among other people seeking warmth and sushi on a chilly Wednesday night and waited patiently to order.
As we sat, a very loud and somewhat annoying couple sat at the table next to us. They asked the server his opinion on everything… literally. They asked him to go course through course giving recommendations. (Please note that this was not some fancy-schmancy sushi restaurant… it was a small place on 45th and 8th and it was super inexpensive. So, it’s not like there was any chef’s special or anything that any media source indicated was a “must try.” Who were these people trying to impress?) Sadly, my friend and I continued to judge these people because they too were going to see a show… Annie.
Two grown-ass people were going to see Annie.
Now, I have nothing against that musical as I’ve seen it a couple times in my day at various community theaters. It’s a safe show. It’s a familiar show. But it’s Annie.
Maybe it’s just me, but I like to be challenged by what I’m seeing. Or I like to see something that will get you talking. I saw The Anarchist a couple months ago and even though it was not great, it sparked some epic conversation between my friend and I. David Mamet makes you think. Annie doesn’t.
And maybe these people didn’t want to put any effort in their theater-going last night…. And on some level, I get that. Sometimes you just want to be entertained.
I, on the other hand… I wanted to feel something. I wanted to watch someone fall apart.
Tennessee Williams is without a doubt, one of the greatest playwrights of all time. He’s got a way with words that is enviable. I spent parts of the play sitting asking myself, “Why can’t I write like that?”. His characters are so complex and yet not at the same time. People could easily write off Maggie as a selfish woman who can’t please/can’t be pleased by her husband, but she is so much more than that. Maggie talks because the silence is too deafening to stand. She knows how to push people’s buttons, but can just as easily turn around and defend them with everything she’s got.
I’m grateful that I got to see Scarlett Johansson on stage. I’ve seen almost all of her films, but never really went along with the hype. I have so much more respect for her now that I’ve seen her in a play. She was mesmerizing to watch and was able to convey a gamut of emotions within mere seconds. Her eyes were expressive and she easily twisted her frown into a knowing smirk when the situation called for it. Though Maggie comes off strong at the beginning, you quickly find yourself sympathizing with her for trying to hold her marriage together as well as stand up for her in-laws. Johansson’s raspy voice and the southern accent she adopted for the role gave Maggie an almost masculine edge that was well-suited for the character. (See – [SPOILER ALERT] her husband is [correctly] accused of having relations with his male BFF from his football days. He’s not feminized in any way, by any means, but all his drinking and self-loathing make him a weak character in some regards. Even though Brick is physically strong – his body is still well kept and fit even though he drinks like whoa – he’s also physically weak because he broke his ankle and relies on a crutch to get around in less pain than when he hobbles around with no crutch.)
I had never seen Benjamin Walker in anything, though I knew of him from articles I read about “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” Walker is a very talented actor and was very committed to the physical and emotional pain his character (Brick) was going through. He hobbled across that stage and grimaced with such conviction when his hurt ankle was jarred to the point where I was grimacing right along with him.
And – I have zero shame in writing this – it was a privilege to be in the fourth row for Walker’s performance for aesthetic purposes. The man walked out onstage in a white towel and nothing else and it set the tone for his oft-mentioned physical prowess. Though Johansson lead the entire first act almost on her own, Walker’s arms/back/chest/hair/ass took center stage because his body is so attractive it was almost distracting. While it could have been easy to just forget about the words and stare at the gorgeous man on stage, Walker’s acting abilities were able to transcend his looks and he was able to use every aspect of his being to really round out his character. (That being said, the man wore either a towel or see-through white silk pants with nothing on underneath for the entire show… holy smokes. Like… I’m sure there could be a book of poetry written about Benjamin Walker’s ass.)
I read a couple interviews Walker did about the show and he’s well aware of the (surface) physical aspects of the show. However, he literally throws himself about the stage and really knows his character inside and out. I love watching actors “go there”… just losing themselves in the moment and expressing raw, real emotions. The whole cast really pulled that off onstage. It wasn’t forced, nor did it feel fake or just for show. This is why I love theater. This is why I would give up television if I could go see a well performed stage show each night. (Someday when I’m rich, I will see ALL THE SHOWS.)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is playing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City through March 30th. If you have the means and want to get your feels on, I highly recommend it.