Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mad Cat Theatre: Cat Lady (5 reviews)

Mad Cat Theatre Company opened its production of Kristina Wong's Cat Lady at the Lightbox Project at Goldman Warehouse on January 3, 2012.
How do you get a cat to stop spraying while simultaneously using theater to end existential loneliness AND racism? This frequently asked question is tackled by Kristina Wong in her devastatingly hilarious play Cat Lady which will open Mad Cat Theatre Company’s 13th season. Cat Lady explores the parallel worlds of two polar opposite archetypes living at the margins of the dating world — musty cat ladies and the fast-talking male pick-up artists who hunt among them.
Paul Tei directed a cast that included Kristina Wong, Ken Clement, Jessica Farr, and Noah Levine.

Hap Erstein reviewed for the Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
...its offbeat, and frequently over-the-top take on pet ownership, loneliness and impersonal coupling fits the expectations of Mad Cat fans, even if some of the 80-minute show blithely defies comprehension.
Wong is an appealing, nimble performer, but she should have known from W.C. Fields’ caution that working with animals is a sure way to come in second. That is particularly so when the cat in question is played by the ingratiating Ken Clement, sporting a Cheshire Cat grin and a water bottle for indiscriminate spraying.
Although Cat Lady has all the indulgent earmarks of performance art, director-designer Paul Tei has given it a flow and the visual curiosities that flesh out the brief ― but not quite brief enough ― evening into a more theatrical realm. It probably helps it you too, like Wong and Tei, are fixated on felines, but if you are willing to go with the flow, there is probably enough to hold your interest in Cat Lady.
 Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
The play... is what the company’s loyal audiences have come to expect from Mad Cat, particularly of late. Staged by Tei (who also designed the abstract set), it is thought-provoking, deliberately unsettling, audacious, raunchy, funny, sometimes messy. Incorporating video, music and scripted versions of improv theater games, it utilizes and deconstructs the theatrical experience. Watching Cat Lady unfold over its 85 minutes is anything but passive.
Playing a version of herself... Wong portrays herself as achingly needy, a woman willing to endure verbal abuse, condescension from pals now deeply into motherhood and impossible hookups, all in pursuit of the holy grail of emotional connection.

She’s surrounded by invaluable characters who illustrate her points and interact with her in ways ranging from creepy to hilarious. Ken Clement, outfitted by costume designer Leslye Menshouse in black formal-wear and a head piece with kitty-cat ears, gets the plum role of the expressive, unruly Oliver... Swinging like a lounge singer on a tune from sound designer-composer Matt Corey, speaking in a voice as velvety as his black “fur,” Clement is the feline (and theatrical) anchor of Cat Lady.
As a theatrical piece, Cat Lady could definitely use more editing, shaping and focus, though its best moments are artful and emotional. But its rules-be-damned, independent vibe is likely just what its cat-loving creators intended.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
...the delightful surprise is that Kristina Wong’s Cat Lady at Mad Cat Theatre Company is downright hilarious while shot through with pathos and insights into the search for human connection. It seems to be exactly the offbeat but accessible exploration of loneliness that Wong and director Paul Tei hoped to create.
As actress and playwright, Wong guides a fictionalized account of her recovery from an abusive relationship and her reliance on her cat Oliver as her one solace at home between solo shows on the road. At the same time, after meeting a professional pickup artist on South Beach, she begins researching the strange subculture of men who hope to find validation in these assignations.
She’s also a skilled actress. In one superb passage, she takes the cynical manipulations taught in an instructional video we’ve just seen and delivers them in a startlingly effective seduction of the audience. We know it’s manufactured because Wong is simply employing what the instructor said, but Wong’s skill makes exactly the feigned connection that the hustler was describing. This meta-moment in which the audience becomes the target is vital and unnerving.
Nearly stealing the show is Ken Clement as a droll Oliver who could give Garfield lessons in exuding that not quite inscrutable self-satisfaction.  Once again, he demonstrates a preternatural talent for being a low-comedy clown one moment and the next, able to surprise you with unleashed emotion. Here, he is sublimely silly in his suave black tuxedo topped by a full cat cowl with perky ears and carrying a spray bottle that he uses at the slightest provocation...  His mobile face can host the innocent expression of a kid who just batted a ball through the neighbor’s window.
Tei, who has known Wong since he moved to L.A. in 2009, is a perfect fit as a director.  He has caught her vibe of daffiness that clothes genuine feeling and augmented her script with his stylized staging. In fact, having a previously-produced script rather than developing most of it in rehearsal has imposed a bit of welcome discipline on Tei’s genius for unbridled inventiveness. Even more crucial, he effectively turns the tone of the show on the proverbial dime from hilarity to pathos as required. 80 minutes, portions could be excised without harming the driving through line...  That said, Cat Lady is one of the most satisfying Mad Cat productions in recent years and a deserves an audience seeking something that makes you think and laugh while tearing down the strictures of traditional theater.
Marjorie O'Neill-Butler reviewed for miamiartzine:
... an interesting and entertaining show it is. How could it not be with Ken Clement playing a 200 pound cat, Oliver? Dressed in a tuxedo and a balaclava with ears, he sprays his scent everywhere he goes... He sings, he narrates and dances. Watch his face. It is ever changing. He is an actor who can say so much without opening his mouth.
...Noah Levine and Jessica Farr... are articulate, sharp tongued and funny and can dance up a storm when required.
But the main attraction is Kristina Wong, who wrote Cat Lady.   She's dressed in what my mother would have called a get-up, and she manages to be funny, winning and downright sad, changing from one to the other with the lighting. What’s most interesting about Kristina’s performance is she shares the stage with three strong actors and doesn’t seem to care that from time to time, she is not the focus.
The whole show was put together and directed by Miami’s own Peter Pan, Paul Tei. His sense of humor is evident in every scene. His sense of the absurd is right there too. He blends performance art and conceptual art into one piece. Sort of like the proverbial bus accident: you can’t take your eyes off it.
Rosa St. Claire reviewed wrote for The Examiner:
Written by and starring Kristina Wong and directed by Paul Tei, this zany play had the opening night audience roaring with laughter. Paul Tei’s creative genius is at its peak in this hilarious play based on Wong’s cat, Oliver, and his pleasure in “spraying” her -- and everyone else for that matter...
Wong needs a whole book to list her accomplishments, but suffice to say that she’s enormously talented. Her ordeal as an Asian-American in “Cat Lady” has the audience simultaneously laughing and thinking throughout the entire play.
Oliver the Cat is played by versatile actor Ken Clement... Clements’ presence is welcomed by the enthralled audience...
Jessica Farr... can exude comedy with just a twitch of her nose. Her deep stare channels Ricky Ricardo in his intense but crazy scenes with Lucy.
Mad Cat Theatre Company presents Kristina Wong's Cat Lady at the Lightbox Project at Goldman Warehouse through January 20, 2012.

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