Within minutes our minds wander. And that's never a good sign when observing art of any sort. The wandering continues through much of this production. The luminous Jennifer Mudge begins the play with her pages-long monologues as Maggie, and Mudge seems in character vocally and physically. But her voice dips into raspiness, and we worry about her durability for the run. Her accent begins to falter and turn badly exaggerated, and we stop believing. Jeremy Davidson, saddled with the plaster cast Brick wears after his "athletic" accident, drags it around the stage, putting too much pressure on the toes of that foot while walking. Then director Gilbert Cates also expects us to believe that Brick would keep leaving the comfort of the sofa to climb a few steps to the many bottles of alcohol he consumes, rather than bringing them with him and settling in. A visual cue to how desperately Brick needs his drink? Probably not.
In Act Two we focus on John Goodman's work as Big Daddy. God, he has great moments. But he wanders ever so slightly out of the sweet spot, and because we have such high expectations of Goodman, we notice. As Big Mama, Brenda Fricker is warm and maternal, but there's no readily apparent purpose to her character.
By the middle of Act Three the mental casting reshuffle begins. Mudge is maternal toward Mama, genuinely protective while holding her. What a great Mama she'll make in several decades; meantime, her warmth and humor could have helped her take on Mae, played instead by Kristin Potter. Off we go, mentally casting Potter as Maggie-too bright for this family, too determined not to stay on the roof, Potter's fire flaming under Mae's perfect maternity frock.
We wonder why an updated version of the play was chosen, with its sprinklings of the f-word that get silly laughs from the audience. What else do we wonder about? The thought process is still going on, but it's not about the greater questions that theatre should provoke.
Presented by and at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. Tue.-Thu. 7:30 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 4 & 8:30 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Nov. 16-Dec. 18. (310) 208-5454.