(Juan A. Ramírez’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/31; via Pam Green.)

The Ruth Stage’s production understands the violence and identity crisis at the core of Brick’s character, but other elements fail to cohere.

We know from his personal writing (and context clues) that Tennessee Williams was into trade: hypermasculine men who are just as likely to have sex with men as they are to break their necks. These seductive brutes are strewn throughout his work, just as essential and memorable as his fading belles. There is no Blanche without Stanley.

Williams would probably love Matt de Rogatis’s Brick in Ruth Stage’s production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” which recently opened at Theater at St. Clement’s. The former football hero is still a depressive alcoholic whose drunken escapades earn him a cast, crutches and the growing contempt of his wife, Maggie. But de Rogatis, tatted up and ab-tastic from his backlit shower entrance, compellingly finds the violence and identity crisis at Brick’s core in this contemporary staging.

With the character mostly a punching bag for his bellicose Big Daddy Pollitt (Christian Jules LeBlanc) and the talkative Maggie (Sonoya Mizuno) to explode onto, he is often somewhat of a handsome blank slate. De Rogatis, who also produces, convincingly hints at a torrid inner life, congealed into an imposing physique but betrayed by the anguish he voices at the mention of his ambiguously close relationship with a male friend who died by suicide.

The performance matches the play, which like many of Williams’ works, is concerned with surfaces as much as its characters’ deeper worlds. A fine-tuned melodrama about a wealthy Mississippi family undone by its patriarch’s cancer diagnosis, the play melts down the characters’ kept-up appearances and oft-mentioned “mendacity” as they scramble for his inheritance.

This production, the play’s first Off Broadway staging licensed by the Williams estate, has several excellent surfaces, though not all the elements rise to the occasion. Joe Rosario’s direction, for example, handles the soap opera-style histrionics well but doesn’t land much of Williams’s wicked humor. His characters can often seem aimless and airless, when they should be pointedly animated.

The character of Maggie buckles most under this misfire, especially in the first act’s hourlong near-monologue, in which she breathlessly complains about the children of her snooty sister-in-law, Mae (Tiffan Borelli), then laments her own childlessness and the speculation it brings on. Mizuno, though game, lacks a clear focus in this key scene. Hers is not the determined, seductively self-assured feline immortalized onscreen by Elizabeth Taylor — a high bar, to be sure — but a frenzied kitten rattling against a cage. This does, intriguingly, transform her legendary voluptuousness into a believable portrait of an Ole Miss grad whose hard-won financial safety has started to crumble.

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