Mad Cat Theatre founder Paul Tei and performer-playwright Kristina Wong have been artistic collaborators for a couple of years, first teaming to present Going Green the Wong Way at Miami’s Arsht Center in late 2010, now kicking off Mad Cat’s 13th season with the oh-so-apt play Cat Lady.
Tei and Wong are cat people: He named Mad Cat for his now-departed pet Belly, and she made her late cat Oliver a character in Cat Lady. Both artists understand feline behavior and mine it for laughs and a bit of pathos. In Cat Lady, Wong is a lonely single gal, and underneath his in-her-face spraying behavior, Oliver proves to be just as needy.
The play, now at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 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 explains that she stumbled into the world of pickup artists and the guys who profit from helping one-night-stand wannabes up their game. Ever the researcher, she shares video of one such pickup guru, the plump and balding Asian-American Johnny Wolf, demonstrating his elaborate techniques for getting a stranger to hop into bed on the first “date.” 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 formalwear and a head piece with kitty-cat ears, gets the plum role of the expressive, unruly Oliver. He “sprays” by spritzing Wong with water from a bottle dangling at his waist. And watch out when he ups his game with a giant water gun: You may want to consider wearing a raincoat to Cat Lady. 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.
Jessica Farr and Noah Levine are slick cohorts in pickup artistry, seducing and bedeviling Wong, leaping fearlessly into the ridiculous, amusing and dangerous places the piece demands.
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.