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The Secret of the Cat

a Comedy/Drama
by James Beck

COMPANY : Onion Man Productions [WEBSITE]
VENUE : College Street Playhouse
ID# 4619

SHOWING : August 07, 2014 - August 10, 2014



"Blame the cat, that’s what I always say!"

An imaginative journey into the haunted state of a man’s mind through the world of his favorite childhood book, "The Very Bad Cat." In this murky realm the man, Michael, must solve a mystery. One he has been unable to understand, until now.

Director James Beck
Missy Spider Lory Cox
Man in Hat Scott Gassman
Pete Aaron Glaze
Turtleman Scott King
Mrs. Mouse Debbie McLaughlin
Miss Cat Lauren Quesnel
Detective Mouse Mike Stevens
Officer Thomas Allen Stone
Pretty Bird Janel Stover
Michael Patrick S. Young
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Feline Confusion
by playgoer
Saturday, August 16, 2014
"The Secret of the Cat" is a somewhat misleading title for James Beck’s play. The cat in the story is central to the plot, but not to the action. The mystery at the heart of the tale deals with a childhood birthday wish in which the cat is involved, and "blame the cat" is the catch phrase of the imaginary children’s story ("The Very Bad Cat") that underlies the action, but the cat acts almost as a deus ex machina, announcing she holds the key to the mystery, then letting others reveal it.

We know from the opening moments that Michael, the human protagonist, has been in an airplane crash that has left his body battered and has endangered his life. The action plays out in his mind as he is recovering, his mental environment filled with the animal characters he imagined as a seven-year-old. It takes a while to determine that the airplane crash that killed his father occurred 26 years in the past. Act one lays out the elements of Michael’s situation (his father’s death, his girlfriend’s departure, the villainy of his boyhood friend Pete), and act two ties up the human story with an explanation involving marital infidelity.

The animal story isn’t quite so tidy. We’re told near the outset that Turtleman is the closest thing to a villain in the story, but the only thing approaching villainy that we observe is a cover-up in which Missy Spider and Detective Mouse are more intimately involved (with "Detective" used as a title instead of "Mr." for no obvious reason). The world of the story mixes human characters (a flirtatious mailman and a policeman) with the animals. Granted, the story is from the imagination of a seven-year-old, but the fact that a physical book of "The Very Bad Cat" is presented as a gift at one point (not to mention publicity materials for the show) gives the impression that there’s a more coherent children’s story that we experience only through the disorderly mind of a seven-year-old. Pretty Bird, apparently the narrator of the children’s book, complains repeatedly that the words of the story are gone and hopes that they will return, but the hope is all we experience, not the story itself. We’re told near the act break that there’s been a murder in the world of the storybook characters, but who was murdered is never mentioned.

Michael, the human at the heart of the show, is not a particularly compelling character. He seems to have only a medical team concerned with his human existence, and he is generally a passive center around which the animals swarm. Mrs. Mouse is his caretaker, and seems as concerned that she will cease to exist if Michael dies than in ensuring his welfare. Love from his father seems to bring some closure as the show is concluding, but it’s a resolution of the past, not anything that will relieve the conditions of Michael’s solitary life.

Director James Beck has ensured that performances are of a consistent level across the cast, with Debbie McLaughlin’s the closest thing to a standout performance (as Mrs. Mouse), simply because she carries the opening sequence of the play almost single-handedly. The physical aspects of the show are impressive, with Cathy Seith’s costumes particularly noteworthy. Sound design (by James Beck) and lighting design (by Gary White) fully support the action, and the set nicely apportions the stage into inside and outside areas, although the woods and tree of the outside area aren’t particularly effective in execution.

"The Secret of the Cat" is certainly offbeat entertainment. It’s a relatively breezy production, taking only 90 minutes, including intermission, and there’s a lot of activity going on from start to finish. There’s insufficient heart in the show, though, which makes it more an experiment in playwriting than a successful theatrical production. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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