Cat Lady: Mad Cat's Manic Comedy Not the Pick of the Litter

Cat Lady may be the first show from Mad Cat Theatre Company to showcase an actual mad cat. This pussy is positively vehement: Played by Ken Clement in a black feline costume, Oliver the cat rails against his owner, Kristina (played by the show's creator, Kristina Wong). He's fed up after years of chasing plastic mice, sleeping 23 hours a day and functioning merely as a domestic trinket when there's a great big world out there. He's got a nasty spraying problem, which manifests onstage through a vintage Super Soaker wielded with menace by Clement. The scene works because the actor delivers it straight -- hitting at his character's core with focused Shakespearean bombast -- and it's a long time coming.

The rest of Cat Lady is not so polished, lurching about for 85 minutes like a jalopy on its last legs, occasionally gaining bright comic traction before inevitably sputtering and spinning its wheels. Wong, a sort of performance-art polymath whose projects include standup comedy, movies, contributions to Playgirl magazine and especially solo theater shows, tried something different with Cat Lady, which premiered in 2008. While her previous, one-woman productions used humor to trumpet important subjects like America's energy crisis and the high rates of suicide and depression among Asian-American women, the ensemble piece Cat Lady strives for basic coherence.

I'm struggling to concoct anything like a plot description from this strange, self-reflexive nervous breakdown of a show, which includes audience interaction, impromptu dance numbers, comedy skits, video clips, and lo-fi prop humor, some of it concerning Wong's existential plight at being 30 and loveless and childless, and some of it -- the more ill-advised parts -- deconstructing chauvinist pick-up artistry.

It's nothing if not unpredictable, performed in director Paul Tei's open-air set design, which is less of a recognizable place than an abstract art installation of seemingly random objects, many of them suspended from the ceiling -- ropes, window blinds, pink flamingos, bleacher seats. Like the show itself, it's esoteric and inexplicable.

Embedded in the ADD aesthetic of Cat Lady is an overreliance on cultural references both highbrow and lowbrow, from Lord of the Flies and Sex & the City to Ed Hardy to misogynistic self-help guru Johnny Wolf. If you've never seen VHI's The Pickup Artist, you'll be in the dark for half of this show. Rounding out the ensemble, Noah Levine and Jessica Farr are talented people with flairs for comedy and androgyny who play mostly male pick-up artists, but unfortunately their characters never make anything close to a connection with the audience or with anybody else onstage.

The show's collapse is due mostly to Wong, whose script is so solipsistic and self-referential that it feels written only for herself. But people acting stupid onstage is still people acting stupid onstage, even if there are meta quotation marks around their actions. Cat Lady is fringe-festival myopia at best.

Nice work from Ken Clement, though.

Cat Lady runs at 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 20 at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 NW 26th St. in Miami. Tickets cost $15-$45. Call 866-811-4111 or visit madcattheatre.org.

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