Mad Cat Theatre and Paul Tei Get Dramatic at South Beach Comedy Festival

The Mad Cat Theatre Company returns to the South Beach Comedy Festival  with The Preservation Society, written and directed by one of South Florida's favorite dramaturgs, Paul Tei.

Tei jets back and forth between Los Angeles and Miami for work. And he's excited to get back to the the 305 and work with actors who bring "youth and energy to the project." In The Preservation Society, this cast of talented young actors includes Melissa Almaguer, who plays Polly, the lead character. "I've seen Melissa perform a few times over at the Playground Theatre and she has a lot of diversity as an actor." We had a chance to quiz Tei about the play, the literary quality of Yelp reviews, and Paris in June.

New Times: Tell us a little about the play. What's it about?

Paul Tei: For

me, thematically speaking, it's about coming to terms with your own

identity. What makes up a person? How does one accept their own

mortality? What constitutes a life? The plot, however, is about Polly

Chekov, a comedy writer in Hollywood, California, who comes back to

Hollywood, Florida to deal with the death of her grandmother. Polly has

been asked to write the eulogy for her grandmother's wake, and finds it

difficult to summarize her beloved g'ma's life. She's distracted by her

family (who is a bit eccentric), her recent break up with her boyfriend,

and a chorus that lives in her mind distracting her from her thoughts.

What inspired you to write it?

At the heart of it - the death of my godmother Mary, who was 95 years old. She was the last of the elders in my family. I've been obsessing about death and mortality for a few years now, and taking stock of my own life and what it all means. I also wanted to deal with the internet and how it's become this great escape, especially for can just Google the day away, or Wikipedia yourself into a whole new project. Have you ever read the reviews onYelp? Some of the best writing that I've read in years is posted there. Other major muses for the play are Jeanane Garofalo, Hedda Gabler, Chekhov's The 3 Sisters, The Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society, The Electric Company, Iggy Pop, IMDB, and my cousin Rochelle Gandour.

Who's in it?

Well, it's quite an interesting mix. First off you have my parents, Anne and Pio Tei, who have no professional experience as actors, but I wanted an authenticity in their roles that only someone who has lived their lives could reproduce. Then you have the Mad Cat company members starting with Sofia Citarella. I've known Sofia for over a decade and she is the foundation on which the play rotates. She is Polly's bullshit detector, only speaking the truth. And then we have Betsy Graver, Troy Davidson, and Margaret Prusner -- all company members and part of the chorus. Their roles have a zeal and brightness that Polly has lost. Ricky Waugh, also in the chorus, represents the naysayer in Polly's mind, the self doubt, the second guesser. Next is the role of Annabella, played by Tiffany Hanan Madera. Tiffany is a belly dancer by trade, and she posses an ethereal quality that is in perfect harmony with the free spirit of Polly's older sister. Last but not least is the role of Polly, played by Melissa Almaguer. She's very free and open with a wounded mystery about her that seems to be in perfect rhythm with Polly. I wanted to find an actress that could represent a hybrid of my cousin Rochelle and myself with the sheen of Jeanane Garofalo.

Melissa Almaguer as Polly in "The Preservation Society."
Melissa Almaguer as Polly in "The Preservation Society."
Photo by Steve Anthony

What are the differences in how you approach comedy as a writer, actor, or director?

Wow, um...I don't think there are any differences except in confidence. My greatest strength I believe lies in my directing, followed by my acting and finally my writing...probably because my ability to communicate my thoughts lies best in my directing. I have to draw from these strengths when I'm writing -- how would I direct this scene, or how would I act this moment.... 

How did Mad Cat hook up with the South Beach Comedy Festival?

Through some blessing! Actually, last year the good people of The Miami Light Project presented us.

Have you ever attended or performed in the festival before?

I've attended for years -- I love it. I've seen some amazing performances there, especially Kristina Wong, who is now a very dear friend of mine. It's one of the bright spots of the year in SoFla. Last year we were fortunate enough to present Shepherd's Pie by Ivonne Azurdia and myself and it was one of the highlights of this company's history.

What's your favorite line from The Preservation Society?

That's like asking me which of my cats do I love more! Well, my girlfriend really likes this line from one of Polly's poems: 

It's Paris in June and August in pain
October got stuck in April again

I'm proud of that.

The Preservation Society premieres March 4 at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. General admission tickets cost $31 and VIP tickets cost $67. Watch Mad Cat yuck it up at The Fillmore (1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach). Visit

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