Paws Cats Meow Offers a Howling Good Time

Paws Cats Meow Offers a Howling Good Time; WOODSTOCK – The Saturday after opening night for “The Cat’s Meow,” as much of the town as could fit inside Town Hall was there to catch the Performing Arts of Woodstock production of Holly Beye’s play. Directed by Marcy Arlin, artistic director of Immigrants’ Theater Project in Manhattan and a member of the Lincoln Center Theater director’s lab, this howl of a piece is about folks in a village that’s not Woodstock, by an author with national literary kudos, who’s prowled among the town’s denizens some 30 years. Going a step beyond Will Shakespeare, whose Hamlet said – all the world’s a stage and we are all players, etc. – Beye’s farce suggests the whole world’s a mad house, and we are all inmates. So why not just check into a well run sanitarium and avoid interim stress? Well, in the criminal case of “The Cat’s Meow,” this direct and sensible approach would spoil all the fun. And then, who could Attend town meetings? It’s watching everybody crack up, in a bunch of rare, wacky performances, that makes the show. All timely side issues like the death of the planet by encroaching drought (30 years ago, half the wells on Ohayo Mountain really did go dry, now Florida is burning), same-sex romance (wasn’t love really more fun before everybody came out of the closet and started -marching?), and nonracially motivated murder (our killer chokes sassy, environmental-militant April Plum over a brass-studded black satin bra she’s caught filching as she sorts clothing for the library fair, not because Plum’s an uppity African-American) are strictly incidental. On a religious note, Beye’s script suggests that if you believe in reincarnation, you are likely to get recycled, maybe even bumped back to a former life as the Egyptian cat-goddess, Bastet. You probably wouldn’t want to socialize with any of the folk in her quaint little village, but chances are, you lunch, do civic volunteer work or share office ‘space with people just like them, whose innate insanity is still under wraps. In bits that play like improvs, Arlin encourages each actor to that fine edge, where the farcical, manic-absurd gets realer the farther out it goes. Not that her willing cast of pros needs prodding in the artistic exhibition of madness. You WASP-y Gilberts (William O’Neill and Cornelia Logan), playmates Janet and Ursula (Joan Schulich and Viva Feiner), earnest Ginny Gloe (Prudence GarciaRenart), hustling Marcus McPherson (Joe Felece), meek Zeke Gaborelle (Tom Rowland) – you all know who you are, underneath all those clothes you rummage through, seeking and shedding identities. And Katherine Reid, reigning over all as April and cat mother Bastet – don’t anybody compare this actress, in her centered, flamboyant work, to Whoopie Goldberg. That’s the kind of ethnic generalization Eloise Gilbert would make, and she’s crazy. Reid is Katherine the Great in her own right. Sounding the cat’s meow and other subliminals to bedlam, Robbie Turner bows and plucks the cat guts of his cello. Come early, and you’re likely to catch a Bach Suite, tossed off by this world class musician.

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