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A CurtainUp Review

Stray Cats

There are several reasons I wanted to catch All Seasons Theatre Group's production of Stray Cats.

I've seen a number of engaging plays by innovative young companies in this small but conveniently located space. Even when imperfect they were always worth seeing.

These too-little noticed productions attract terrific actors and adventurous playwrights.

The stage which looks unimposing enough seems to invite innovative set design with a sense of spaciousness that belies the size of the playing area. For a reinvention of The SeaGull (see link at end) the stage was transformed into a beach scene. For a moving examination of a family faced with a fault line in their bare-bones life style, (Good Will), the stage metamorphosed into a farm with a surprising sense of the wide open spaces. And now, in the funny and sad Stray Cats, we have a dark street scene criss-crossed by nine seemingly alike men -- which brings me to the prime reason I rushed to see the very first performance of this collage play with music: The creator of its live film-noire universe, Warren Leight. That's Leight as in author of Side Man, one of the happiest David-among-the-Goliaths stories of this season. (See link to review of its original Off-Broadway production).

What you'll find is nine guys in identical trench coats and hats on a stage furnished with nothing but a few columns, some with ladders. The mood is eerie and somber, and yet there's something funny about the Phillip Marlowe-Sam Spade trench coated characters. Not a word is spoken, yet we chuckle. And when they all throw open their coats, we don't need an announcer to tell us that a real person with a unique story lives inside each look-alike outer layer.

So that's the premise. Each shadowy "cat" steps out of the shadows and into the spotlight to reveal himself as more than just another trenchcoat. The surface link, the outfits; the overriding connection, what the author calls their out-of-sorts and out-of-luck souls, is expressed as much by the haunting improvisational sound of Darcy Hepner's saxophone as the individual narrations.

zmot all of these fragmentary slices of life's uncoupled strays are successful. However, enough work well enough to make for an enjoyable theatrical experience. Those who have seen Side Man, will recognize the sharp dialogue and blend of sadness and humor that gave that play the legs to travel to Broadway. (The last monologue is, in fact, very much a case of Side Man in the making).

Tom Bloom as a Los Angeles insider, (an agent, what else?!), is hilariously self-destructive in his determination not to let the various girls he meets use him as a step up the Hollywood ladder. He plays hard to get, dangles his connections before them, gets them into bed where he treats them roughly and makes it a point never to spend the night. His game plan works well enough, so well, in fact, that it isn't just the girls who are left dangling.

Another highly amusing game player is the poet whose poems "are read and discussed from Portugal to Spain" and who shares the secrets of his success with the other "cats" who in this instance form an applauding audience of would-be poet celebrities. Alexander Robert Scott's portrayal of this literati-skewering "Poemwriter" is right on the mark. He seamlessly interlaces his advice with complaints about the price of success -- for example, having to read "doggerel from Bryn Mawr students who accuse you of sexual harassment after taking you out for cappuccino."

In "It's Showtime Jocko!" Keith Reddin, proves himself to be as incisively funny an actor as he is a playwright. (See links to Reddin's plays we've reviewed and admired). Stephen Bradbury, a recent standout in Amazing Grace, is terrific as "Ol' Gator" a weatherman giving his "Last Hurrah" after he has been politically incorrect once too often.

The most fully realized and successful episode is Diary of a Voyeur. Ean Sheehy captures the agonies of all writers in his portrait of a screen writer hooked on the real life events played out in the apartment facing his. Besides feeding his writer's block, the dysfunctional romance to which he becomes an obsessive witness also stirs echoes of his own recently ended affair.

Probably by the time you see Stray Cats some of the weaker episodes will have been tightened and the too dark stage brightened. But don't wait too long for the kinks to be ironed out since these Cats will be back in the alley in less than two weeks.

As usual for plays at Theatre Three, the modest $12 admission fee makes for theater going at a true bargain price.

The Seagull In the Hamptons
Good Will
Black Snow and Brutality of Fact (by stray cat #6, Keith Reddin)
Amazing Grace
Les Gutman's re-review or Second Thoughts on Side Mans "second coming"" at the Roundabout
CurtainUps Interview With Warren Leight

By Warren Leight
Directed by Kevin Confoy
With Tom Bloom, Stephen Bradbury, Russell Costen, Chris Messina, Max Moore, Jeff O'Malley, Alex Scott, Ean Sheehy, a Keith Reddin
Sets: George Xeonos
Lights: Greg MacPherson
All Seasons Theatre Group
Theatre Three, 311 W. 43rd St. (West of 8th Ave., 3rd floor) (212/ 975-9571)
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 5/14/98 invited dress rehearsal

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