Dave, a lonely actor cut from the original London production of Cats and now trapped in an endless monologue recounting that theatrical tragedy, would like to tell us about his unfunny upbringing as the son of a paper manufacturer. “Every night he would sit there telling jokes,” he says of his father. “And I would never laugh.”
I can sympathize with Dave’s tight-lipped response, having chuckled only twice during the two hours of CAT – (THE PLAY!!!) in which this antic thespian, played by Gerard McCarthy in full feline regalia, appears. The first laugh came with the sight of the stage itself: a Phantom of the Opera-like lair of musical theatre fandom, replete with posters from big hits like Me and My Girl; legendary failures like Carrie; as well as a chandelier (courtesy of Phantom), a tire (a shout out to Cats), and a framed photo of the big man himself, Andrew Lloyd Webber (whose ballad “Love Changes Everything” was blasting at top volume as I entered the Ambassadors Theatre). The second laugh came during a 30-second bit in which Dave is cast as Evita’s llama. I can’t explain it either, but it worked.
CAT – (THE PLAY!!!) is a parody that isn’t all that willing to make fun of the material it’s purportedly parodying. Cats is far camper than this spinoff, and it’s unclear as to whether Dave, and by extension the writers, think of Cats as a guilty pleasure or a great work of art. Clearing this up would be a helpful first step in getting this play off the ground. Without a precise target for the satire, the script ends up making a string of unpleasant quips about the appearance of various performers (is “fat dancers don’t work” really a chortle-worthy remark?) and getting lost in tangential reminiscences (about stage-door Johnnies, for example) that feel more like the authors venting about their own show-biz experiences than developing a consistent character.
McCarthy, under the direction of Richard Jones, gamely, if hyperactively, navigates the awkward text (the past tense of cast is cast, not casted, but that’s the least of its problems) and the crude songs that sound nothing like Lloyd Webber and boast off-off-rhymes like “tragic” and “dynamic.” A few rare moments reveal that McCarthy has a lovely voice so it’s a shame it isn’t put to better use here.
Much of the humor consists of bad cat puns like “Purr-fect” (really?), but many audience members seem to lap it up (see? It’s easy). Dave inserts countless quotes of lyrics from mega-musicals into his narrative, most of them clunky and obvious: “I was always on my own pretending she’s beside me,” he says in one groan-worthy Les Miz reference. The only such reference that sneaks in with any subtlety is a Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat line that, unlike pretty much the rest of the script, I didn’t see coming. That sense of predictability even extends to a big, dark twist that I anticipated from the start and which, while conceptually clever, takes things to a queasy, unpalatable extreme.
CAT – (THE PLAY!!!) played at the Ambassadors Theatre until April 26.
Photo: Mark Willshire