The Heat Is On

The Heat Is On Ashley Judd and Jason Patric get steamy in the Broadway revival of the Tennessee Williams classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Ashley Judd in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Ashley Judd in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Photo by Joan Marcus

She's a gorgeous movie star. He's been a heartthrob film actor since the eighties. And guess what? They're in their skivvies for much of the time night after night on Broadway. Psst. You're invited.

We should mention that the reason for Ashley Judd and Jason Patric's appealing state of dishabille is that they are currently starring in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof — Tennessee Williams's southern masterpiece of familial deception (mendacity, if you will), no-neck monsters and unfulfilled desires. The limited run that opened November 2 at the Music Box Theatre also stars the mighty Ned Beatty as Big Daddy.

As Maggie, Brick's neglected wife, Ms. Judd delivers a fresh-faced strength and intellect to her role. "Maggie has had her heart broken a lot, first by her father, and then by Brick," Ms. Judd said recently. "It's the seeds of the same nightmare being sown twice. [Yet] she has intelligence and strength and vision and wit."

Which is not unlike the actress who plays her. For an in-demand film actress, whose work includes "Double Jeopardy," "Ruby in Paradise" and the upcoming "De-Lovely" (playing Mrs. Cole Porter), committing to a play meant passing up lucrative film offers, but Ms. Judd was resolute to play Maggie — in part because of the honor it carries. "I'll be the only person in my generation to play Maggie," she said. "I had an intellectual determination to do the play. It doesn't matter what movies come along. I am doing this play and nothing could be more important."

Her fondness for Tennessee Williams began in her early twenties, when she pored over his work (her favorite Williams play is Sweet Bird of Youth). But she always had her eye on Cat — "The play is poetry. It grew in me" — and is not overwhelmed by the commitment. "It's been invigorating . . . I found that my process of getting ready makes me energized, and by the time I'm onstage I'm ready to kill those no-neck monsters." For Jason Patric, theatre is more physically demanding than film. But, said the star of "Rush," "Your Friends and Neighbors" and the upcoming "The Alamo," it's worth the effort because of the "shared intimacy between the audience and the actors."

Still, Patric admitted that playing the damaged Brick is a challenge. "It's not easy to play Brick eight days a week. [He] is dealing with a primal struggle that will define or destroy him. It is a very intense role."

Maintaining that intensity for three hours every night is a tremendous feat, a sentiment that an admiring Paul Newman shared with Patric on a recent backstage visit. Newman, who starred memorably as Brick in the 1958 film version of Cat, told the actor that he had forgotten how difficult the part is to sustain.

"[This play] is a generational torch, as vital today as it was 50 years ago," said Patric, whose pride in his participation in this revival was evident. "To be a part of this is something truly incredible."