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Writing for CurtainUp NYC Weather
|A CurtainUp Review
By Les Gutman
Melancholy is to be scorned as a vice.
As the musical Cats scampers toward its closing on Broadway this year, there's a certain appeal to considering the balancing effect of the Off-Off Broadway arrival of Cannon Co.'s Puss. (The connection doesn't go unobserved in this production; little does.) Symmetry, however, is not a notion that has a lot of application in the theater, and Puss certainly doesn't go out of its way to provide nourishment to the throngs who will suffer some loss owing to the demise of Andrew Lloyd Webber's entertainment. Whereas the worst fault of Cats may be that it is innocuous, that word is not even in this cat's ample vocabulary.
Several years ago, I recall hearing the performer Danny Hoch describe himself as someone who "commits the act of theater". Richard Kimmel, who conceived, adapted and directed this version of Ludwig Tieck's Puss-in-Boots, would have to plead guilty to the same. He loads up Cannon Co.'s estimable theatrical artillery and aims it right at the audience. It's an invasive attack. While the result can be hugely entertaining, it also demonstrates a particular way theater can influence. This is theater that cannot just be watched; it must be experienced. That said, it's also theater as to which the less said, the better, so I'll tiptoe around the details of what goes on here. Go see for yourself.
The first impression one has upon seeing the installation at the Performing Garage is of its relationship with its experimental theater mentors. Richard Foreman's clear plastic dividers and taut strings are everywhere, as are his random alphabet, ringing bells, scribblings and flea market detritus. Also immediately evident are the trappings of the Wooster Group's typical sets, long on scaffolding and mechanics, short on decoration, as well as the use of live cameras, multiple video monitors and splendidly if preposterously choreographed dance interludes. But don't make the mistake of thinking the presence of these markers is slavishly derivative, and certainly don't take them for dutiful homage. There's another notion at work here.
Puss has its own compass, and this will drive some people nuts. Relax. It does manage to tell Tieck's version of the classic Puss-in-Boots story along the way, but it won't hurt to know it (or be reminded of it) in advance.
When a miller dies, he leaves an animal to each of his three sons (Matt Pomerantz, Patrick Tully and Jorge Isaacs, all quite easy to look at). To the youngest, Gottlieb (a quite charming Tully), he leaves only the family cat (Andrew Garman, also charming in a dignified feline sort of way). Seeing the boy's disappointment, the cat assures him that if he will simply provide him with suitable accessories (a hat with a feather in it, a bag and, most importantly, a pair of boots), he will prove to be a most worthy inheritance. Gottlieb goes along with his request, and the shoemaker (a very dominant Dominique Bousquet) is called to cobble a fine pair for the cat.
Puss goes hunting and, as he catches rabbits and birds and the like, presents them, in the name of his purported master, the Count of Carabas, to the King (Wayne Adams, as regal as a man can be when his throne is a wheelchair). Since the death of the queen, the King has been anxious about finding a suitable husband for his daughter (Courtney King, no relation), who has many suitors, none of whom have "touched her heart with love". Since this is a fairy tale, by story's end, naturally, Puss has arranged for Gottlieb aka Carabas to take the princess as his bride.
For what it's worth, Puss is billed as a metatheatrical farce, a kind of Brothers Grimm meet Thornton Wilder. It's chock full of ideas. Though they don't all work, enough do to make for a more than satisfying experience.