Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mad Cat Theatre: So My Grandmother Died...(5 reviews)

Mad Cat Theatre Company opened its production of So My Grandmother Died blah blah blah at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse on August 19, 2011.
The story of Polly Chekhov, a comedy writer in Hollywood, California who comes back to Hollywood, Florida for the wake of her beloved grandmother Mary.  The play is about the deconstruction of a euolgy.  A syncopated exposition of three sisters, the youngest Polly and her two older sisters.  Polly has writer’s block which becomes the instigating action which is responsible for most of the conflict.  Multiple characters, Polly’s eccentric family, a chorus of deconstructionists and a musician, carry you over the debris of endless cultural accumulations through a labyrinth of iconology. 

First test driven for one night as The Preservation Society in last year's South Beach Comedy Festival, Tei has re-titled, re-worked and re-cast this inventive new play.
Paul Tei directed a cast that included Melissa Almaguer, Erin Joy Schmidt, Deborah L. Sherman, George Schiavone, Beverly Blanchette, Anne Chamberlain, Troy Davidson,  Ricky Waugh and Brian Sayre.

Hap Erstein reviewed for the Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
It is Tei’s contention, I suppose, that his target audience sees little value in linear structure or any of the other elements of what was quaintly once called “the well-made play.” Maybe he is right, for the assembled crowd with whom I saw Mad Cat’s latest opus certainly seemed engaged and entertained, even if they had little context for the scattershot mentions of Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen and other dead white dudes that are dropped into So My Grandmother Died like factoid bombs.
Let’s assume Tei is familiar with the cartoons of Jules Feiffer, from which Annabella seems to leap. He certainly knows Chekhov’s Three Sisters and his take on this trio of angst-ridden sibs who yearn to go to Miami is drily amusing.
Try to make sense of it all at your own peril. Instead, accept the moment-to-moment enjoyment, which is considerable. Any insistence that it all add up to more, while understandable, would surely mark you as an old-school fuddy-duddy.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Have you heard the one about the talented actor-director-playwright who decided to explore his subconscious onstage? Sounds like a joke, but if you catch Mad Cat Theatre Company founder Paul Tei’s newest work, you’ll realize that, despite the frenetic efforts of Tei and his gifted cast, the result is only rarely a laughing matter.
Taking an anti-linear journey to its happy-sappy ending, the play is stuffed to the gills with pop- and high-culture allusions. Sit through its meandering, sometimes maddening two hours, and you’ll hear references to Ezra Pound, Billy Joel, Henrik Ibsen, Hedda Gabler, Green Acres, Yelp reviews, pirate jokes, Oprah, Miami Heat players, Glee, Willie Wonka, a commercial for Spaghetti-Os – well, the list feels endless. But that blizzard of attention-grabbing words can’t obscure the undernourished story beneath the theatrical razzle dazzle.

As the director, Tei uses the black-box space well, parking a coffin and funeral flowers in one corner, creating the Chekhov family’s cozy living room in the center, putting a microphone for Polly’s lame spoken-word performances alongside artfully used percussionist Brian Sayre.
So My Grandmother Died benefits from the skills and in-the-moment truth of the actors playing the three sisters. And it begins with a lovely, arresting image, as Chamberlain (playing the period-dressed ghost of Polly’s grandmother) moves about the darkened stage holding an umbrella illuminated by tiny white lights. But finding an overarching way to describe a play that touches on the power and specificity of words? “Blah” works.
Bill Hirschman submits the first-ever review for Florida Theater On Stage:
Paul Tei, co-founder of the company that always seems to be preceded by the adjective “edgy,” has returned home from Los Angeles to write and direct a satire that will charm the open-minded and puzzle the conventional.
So my grandmother... is a return to the idiosyncratic fantasias that Mad Cat favored years ago, such as Shepherd’s Pie and Helluva Halloween. Like them, it’s messy, undisciplined, even self-indulgent in its determination to break the rules. But it’s also a gold-plated hoot watching talented professionals smashing down traditional preconceptionsof theater.
One drawback of an unrelieved procession of nonsense is that mainstream audiences will spend a lot of misspent effort struggling to get their head around what Mad Cat is trying to do. It’s only when you throw up your hands and just hop in their back seat for the ride that it’s possible to enjoy it. Tei even lampoons that confusion. After Polly gives an impassioned, imagistic, but pretentious reading of her poetry, a relative asks her the same thing the audience is thinking:  “So who is this about?” To which, Polly answers, “Why does it have to be about someone?”
It’s hard to assess the acting because these are intentionally over-the-top comic characters. Made up to look like Ugly Betty or Abby from NCIS, Almaguer makes a dependable linchpin with a huge grin that often vanishes into angst.
Schmidt is flawless as the daffy and shallow single mother; Sherman is delightfully silly in her dance recitals. The three actors playing the chorus are especially good, each trading characters and accents like quicksilver chameleons, threading their lines in and around each other like speed demons on I-95.
Chris Joseph wrote scribbled down a bunch of adjectives for The Miami New Times:
If you like shows that combine witty comedy, textually dense psychodrama, trippy-ass quests of intellectual expression, philosophical meanderings, and comedic kitsch, Mad Cat Theatre Company's So My Grandmother Died, Blah Blah Blah is the show for you.
The kinetic, frenzied production plunges the audience into the mind of a struggling comedy writer trudging through the emotional baggage of her personal life, her relationship with her family, and her floundering career, all while grappling with a stubborn case of writer's block as she pens a eulogy for her dead grandmother.
Mad Cat Theatre Company and especially writer/director Paul Tei understand that theater doesn't resonate without a nuanced script, fascinating characters, a story that's daring and original, and well-timed Oprah jokes.
What a shame Mr. Joseph couldn't demonstrate how Mad Cat displays this understanding.
Ron Levitt reviewed for ENV Magazine:
It occurred to me while watching this opening night production that this play might be  custom-made for intellectually bright college level students (theatre majors?) or those who thrive at uncorking philosophical platitudes and explaining them as human theory.  It is that kind of production. It is not for general consumption. Many will go away saying they did not understand it.   
To say that this play is different is an understatement, but that is what Mad Cat is all about. Playwright-director Tei takes the audience on a spin covering what happens to a writer, what is important  in “theatre,” how love can be denied, the meaning of one’s own life,  as well as what it means to be a free thinking woman in society.
This original work features  Mad Cat Company members and some of Miami’s “hot, hip and offbeat “ talent...
Mad Cat Theatre Company's production of So My Grandmother Died blah blah blah plays at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse through September 10, 2011.

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