New play, great expectations.
The collaboration between Markuz Rodriguez and Davig Vaughn was 15 years in the making (they met while performing in a theater production at Mt. Carmel High School).
Once they re-connected, “The Cat Lady” had a two-year gestation, and it’s now premiering at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center.
There are many good ideas here. Too many, in fact. The production also has a problem of excess: too many characters, too many extraneous stories, too many scene changes, too much gratuitous sexuality.
But the basic premise is intriguing:  Hannah (Ray-Anna Ranae), an aimless 30-something, is the titular Cat Lady – in both senses of the term. She has multiple feline pets – and she’s a cat burglar.
She can’t afford to pay her rent or feed her cats, so she plays Robin Hood (“I only steal from chains!”). Her oversexed Irish landlady, Madge (Eric Peterson) thinks all Hannah’s difficulties will be resolved if she marries a rich man. So Madge introduces Hannah to the sleazy King of the Dump and Swamp, Marv Lothario (massive-eyebrowed J.D. Burke).
Hannah steals a rare, valuable book from him (creepily, it’s bound in human skin, a not uncommon practice in the past; this one’s from Iceland). In trying to sell the book online, she meets Julian (Rudy Bañuelos), a nice, nerdy professor. They seem to have a lot in common (except the stealing, of course).
So, who’ll get first dibs on the femme fatale and her felines? One of these two – or the police?
Interesting setup. But then, there’s so much extra stuff: the slave/servants of Marv (Kevin Six and Jennie Olson-Six, in wacky form), and Julian’s gay friend (Juan Hernandez), who has a leather-harnessed sex slave (Aaron Lugo). And then there’s the libidinous interaction with a grappling hook.
Of course, the cute cats (Kayla Morales, Eduardo Cao, Caitlin Ross and Allain Francisco) have fun moves and individual personalities. But why does one of them suddenly curse out the audience?
This production is an earnest effort, and there’s some fine talent in the mix. But the play isn’t quite ready for prime-time. It needs serious paring down, several rewrites, a dramaturge to help tighten it, and an objective director (the writers have also directed – and designed the set). A new work should be directed by someone who can offer a fresh look at the material and suggest needed changes.
The sometimes cartoonish comedy would work better at a fleet, fast-paced 60-75 minutes that focuses more directly on the main story and heightens the clever ideas within.
It’s not easy putting up a brand new piece of theatrical work. Bravo to all for the energy and commitment that are clearly driving this production.