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April 13, 2014 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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The Cat’s Meow (Review)

The Cat’s Meow
By Steven Peros
Directed by Matt Bently

Potentially described as Hollywood fan fiction, playwright Steven Peros speculates on the events leading to the mysterious death by drawing from the yield of the Hollywood rumour mill. Lust. Greed. Camera. Action. 

Cut to 1924, Hollywood. A party of movers, shakers and up-and-comers board a boat for a weekend cruise on which “One of them will leave horizontally,” hints narrator Elinor Glyn (Julia Harris) in a precise and charming expositional monologue. The text itself can stand on its own, being lofty enough to be evocative of the era while feeling genuine enough to let you feel like a friend to celebrity characters.

I was surprised to find that the story was based on true events. All the characters are based on real people, including stars Marion Davies (Jessica Aaltonen) and Charlie Chaplin (Daniel Gorton) as well as the aforementioned Glyn. My ignorance was bliss as I was treated to two mysteries, not knowing who the killer or the victim were. You can spoil only one of these with a Wikipedia search.

The performances are dynamic, considering that the characters are iconic in nature. Daniel Gorton’s Charlie Chaplin plays the master clown as an emotionally torn artist struggling with the consequences of his lifestyle. (Turns out Charlie Chaplin knocked up his lead actress. Who was 16. True story.)

William Randolph Hearst, the media mogul who owns the boat, is played with conviction and integrity by Stagecraft veteran David Cox. He commands the stage with bold vocal tone. Though Captain of the ship, Cox’s performance breaks through the established archetype at certain moments, creating depth.

Jessica Aaltonen is a delight to watch perform as the sassy Marion Davies. Her physicality is graceful and enthusiastic. She energetically smiles over subtext, showing the rope which weighs her anchor. She listens and reacts to her scene partners while still being enough of a force to give her scenes momentum.

The supporting starlet duo of Celia Moore (Eileen Chase) and Didi Dawson (Emily Gorton) deserve a special mention for playful portrayals, ironically creating comic relief for Charlie Chaplin’s tragic subplot. Their background gossip creates the high-stakes mood and tone of the Hollywood scene.

A live band accompanies the performance, with sultry vocals by Ruth Corkill. The soundtrack is of the era, with lyrics that reflect the action. It would have been better had her vocals been louder, as they were often drowned out by the band. While musically she fit into the story, I was unsure as to where her character and the band existed in the world of the play.

The boat is evoked with two cabins stage right and left with portholes and bed, while the centre space serves as a dining hall. A steering wheel signifies the bridge upstage. The colour palette is muted. Greyscale with tones of lavender. The transitions were not overly disruptive, as they were covered by the sound of the live band.

Stage Manager Andrea Wiechern and her assistant Karl Arndt play servants to move the table in and out of scene. They had a great physical game in one transition in which one would always slightly correct the other’s placement. It would have been nice to see it carry over to the other transitions.

The costume was iconic of the period: the men wear mostly black and white plain suits and bow ties, with the exception of Chaplin’s cummerbund a brooding shade of purple. The evening gowns are exquisite. A range of popping colours adorned with a high level of attention invested in the accessories. It’s a shame the consistency breaks during a silly hat party. The costume props are thrown together from noticeably 2 dollar store props, which breaks the lavishly ‘20s atmosphere.

Sadly, it is unlikely that anyone in the readership of Salient will go to the show. It’s okay. You don’t need to apologise. I understand. I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t have a reviewer comp. Stagecraft productions have tertiary-student tickets priced at $20 (with a valid student ID). BATS tickets are reliably $10–$15 concession. Even Circa has tickets for $25 for under-25s (and they pay their actors). Stagecraft is isolating the student population with exorbitant and unnecessary ticket prices.

The Cat’s Meow is a solid production. An intriguing script performance by actors who break the stereotype of amateur dramatics. The play runs for two-and-a-half hours in total, yet doesn’t drag and concludes with satisfaction with the plot as opposed to the relief of the final bow. It is evocative, sexy, and a little bit dangerous. Great for a date if you’re dating someone rich and famous.

 

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  1. Shannon says:

    Thanks for the review. We really appreciate getting feedback published. Stagecraft do occasionally run special ticket prices for students. Tends to only occur for shows that they think will particularly appeal to students…..as luck would have it, tomorrow night is such an occasion =) So for tomorrow night, Friday 6th June, with ID student tickets are $15 at the door. Door sales open at 6.30pm, show starts at 7.30pm for more information about the show “Crumble (Lay me down Justin Timberlake)” go to the web site, http://www.stagecraft.co.nz

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