Reviewed by Julio Martinez
Through July 29
An aging and mentally challenged old lady, a.k.a. “Mother” (Lisa Anne Nicolai), is losing grasp on reality in her isolated Midwestern home when in the dead of winter her house becomes a refuge for a “clowder” of feral cats, all seeking warmth and sustenance. Catlady, written by Kevin Kelly (who also directs) and Nathan Shoop, deals head-on with the issue of Darwinian survival, as the cats struggle with the meager resources available.
Kelly and Shoop have infused the play with a foreboding Fargo-like atmosphere, underscored by the dire socio-economic pronouncements found in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Wily stray cat Pumpkin (Shoop) convinces his fellow felines to work collectively in order to stretch the pitiful daily milk rationing doled out by “Mother.” and, after some debate, the group agrees that the penalty for pilfering any provisions will be death.
What works best here are the finely layered cat portrayals. Well-assimilated family house cat, Mittens (Sarah Nilsen) is joined by opportunistic twins Ran (Danielle Power) and Pan (Dayeanne Hutton), aging leader Angel (Raymond Donahey), dedicated feral Smokey (Tyler Grant Fairbank), starving but poetic Chalmers (Joe Bills), love-smitten Oliver (Ben Rawls), and ever manipulative Pumpkin. Each demonstrates a distinct personality that elevates recognizable feline traits into communicable human interaction.
Particularly noteworthy are the cuddly antics of Ran and Pan who are cheerfully murderous as they plot to make this new home their own. Fairbank’s Smokey is delightfully comical as a dedicated stray cat who can’t wait to flee the house for the freedom of the road. Rawls exhibits excellent timing as the tragically love-smitten Oliver who has fallen whiskers-over-tail for Mittens. And Nilsen’s Mittens is achingly amiable even as she must face a deteriorating reality.
The play falters mostly in its thematic arc. There is too much written into Pumpkin’s background just for the sake of justifying his actions. He’s a cat. He doesn’t need a Shakespearean back-story to justify his actions. The central character of the Old Lady exhibits a mental infirmity that is unchanging, rendering her a thematic non-entity. By the time her actions begin to take shape, the play is essentially over. The production’s heightened surrealism is constantly sabotaged by directorial sloppiness. At one point, the Old Lady’s grown son, Benny (Matt Le Clerc), arrives with a bag full of groceries. The bag spills and there are no groceries in it.
Loft Ensemble, 13442 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sat, 8pm, Sun., 7pm. Through July 29. Running time: 2 hours, one intermission.