Scarlett Johansson in
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; photo © 2012 Joan Marcus

To cast Scarlett Johansson as Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is to risk turning the carefully balanced play into a mere star vehicle, and Rob Ashford’s production at the Richard Rodgers Theater walks right up to that line—right up until the moment at which Maggie (and Miss Johansson’s turbocharged take on the character) disappears from the stage for a good chunk of the play. And then the play becomes something else entirely, something like one of those clockwork models of the universe that so fascinated the philosophical cosmologists in the years before Galileo: wheels within wheels, everything turning in a kind of...

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