Theatre Review: “Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!” at TOTS

LtoR: Dannon Crews, Daniel Robert, Jay Hemphill, Jason Gloye, Nate Waldon in “Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!”

Last Friday night, it worked out that my busy actor friend, Dane Rogers, and I could go see a show together.   He is rehearsing “South Pacific” for the Myers Dinner Theatre but he had Friday night off.

A lot of potentially worthwhile shows opened last weekend.  I didn’t have any Encore Association responsibilities and I had already made plans to see “November” at the Phoenix with another friend another night.  However, I had also received offers of media passes from Actors Theatre of Indiana (ATI) to see “Perfect Wedding,” from Theatre on the Square (TOTS) to see “Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!” and from the Indianapolis Civic Theatre to see “Little Shop of Horrors.”   I was pretty sure I would be able to see all of them eventually, so I left it up to Dane to decide which of the three we would see on Friday night.

He chose “Kitty, Kitty, Kitty,” written by Noah Haidle and directed at TOTS by Ron Spencer. 

It was a good decision!  This bizarre show about love and identity is belly-laugh funny and “deeper” than you might think.

Nate Walden plays Kitty, a slinky shelter cat that is so bored and depressed from the lack of stimulation in his confined life that the thought of being euthanized makes him perk up.

However, the huge syringe that the cuddly, owl-eyed Scientist (Dan Flahive) shoves in Kitty’s hip is not filled with poison.  Rather, its purpose is to withdraw some of Kitty’s cells for an experiment.   A flash and a puff of smoke later, and a new creature – Kitty Kitty (Jason Gloye) – is poking his way through the paper wall of the machine under Kitty’s perch.

Kitty Kitty looks a lot like Kitty.  Kitty Kitty can barely move at first, let alone communicate, but Kitty helps him and, in the process, falls in love with him.  Or is he falling in love with himself?

Either way, Kitty teaches Kitty Kitty where and how to touch him to bring him to orgasm…except that before it can be accomplished, the Scientist rushes in with a spray bottle and separates the two kitties!

Oh, the sadness and frustration of forbidden love!

Of unrequited love, too!  Kitty Kitty is soon adopted by a well-meaning redneck couple who have relationship problems of their own.  Mr. Person (Jay Hemphill) and Mrs. Person (Carrie Fedor) are mystifying to the now erudite Kitty Kitty at first, but he eventually comes to love them more than Kitty.  Kitty only discovers this after he has broken out of the lab to go look for Kitty Kitty.

Kitty tries to mend his broken heart by having a fling with a big, dumb, orange cat (Dannon Crews) who can only remember that his name is Morris when someone reads the tag on his belled collar.  He brings new meaning to the request, “Say my name!” during sex.

Then Kitty tries to mend his broken heart by creating more clones of himself.  However, Kitty Kitty Kitty (Jay Hemphill), Kitty Kitty Kitty Kitty (Daniel Robert), and Kitty Kitty Kitty Kitty Kitty (Dannon Crews) don’t tumble out of the machine in quite the same way as Kitty Kitty did.

In the meantime, the Scientist is “getting back” at the people from school that rejected him by cloning some company for himself.  (Scientist Clone played by Daniel Robert.)

I am only telling you the bare bones of the plot.  The actors flesh them out with hilarious skill.  The show overall has a poignancy that is hard for me to describe because whenever I think about this show it just makes me laugh, shake my head, and say, “Oh, my” again.

Walden and Gloye are so cat-like in their mannerisms, and Flahive so clueless in his communications with them as their human, that I laughed out loud in recognition.  I bet that everyone else in their audiences who has ever owned (or rather, been owned by) a cat will do the same.

The other three kitty clones (Hemphill, Robert, and Crews) are…well, pretty disgusting, and therefore hilarious…until you suddenly find yourself feeling really sorry for them. 

I have to admire actors who can drool and slobber and hump everything that moves (and even some things that don’t) with absolutely no inhibitions.  For that matter, I also have to admire actors who can reach inside each other’s pants and fondle each other’s privates and react authentically without breaking character while the audience howls.  (That’s every kitty in this show!)

Hemphill’s and Fedor’s portrayals of Mr. and Mrs. Person give a whole other, separate yet integrated, layer to the show’s examination of love relationships.  They are like the couple who fights all the time on the TV show, “Married with Children,” only they are funnier, the characters are more detailed, and their interactions have more heart.

Flahive and Robert’s Scientist and Scientist Clone subplot, too, adds a distinct layer of food for thought.  If we really don’t care what other people think of us, why do we call them up to tell them so?  And is there really anything one can do when the great cosmic lonelies come down in the middle of the night?

The many short scenes in this two-act play are each introduced by a letter of the alphabet and a brief “in which…” statement flashed on a screen at the back of the stage.  After the show, director Ron Spencer told me that when he had first read the script, the alphabet intros seemed, collectively, as much of a character as the characters themselves, so he decided to emphasize them with the screen.

The clinical, all-white set, designed by James Trofatter with lighting and sound design by Ron Spencer, includes a clever hexagonal box-like structure that spins out the clones.  There is a giant litter box, too, which is a hoot.  I was also delighted by the show-related jokes in the pre-show and intermission music.

(Alvin Sangsuwangul is the technical director.  Jon Lewis is the stage manager.  John Fullam is the light and sound operator.  Properties by Diane McGuire & Peter Finney.  Set construction & scenic art by James Trofatter.  Roger Smith was assistant director to director Ron Spencer.)

The cloned kitties all wear matching grey tracksuits touched with black.  (Costumes by Stephen Hollenbeck.)  At some point in the creative process, Hollenbeck must have done away with the wigs that you see in the photo, above.  (Photo by Ron Spencer.)  I bet it is because the show is very active, very physical, and the wigs just wouldn’t stay on.  In any case, the way he has the kitties wearing their own hair now works very well:  it makes a subtle yet effective statement about the five kitties’ relationships to each other.

After the show, Dane and I hung around for the opening night celebration and chatted with the actors, staff, and other audience members.  Several TOTS board members and friends were there, including Juli Inskeep, whose comedy work I so enjoyed in “Pizza Driver” at the Mystery Café recently.

After a while Dane and I walked down to Bazbeaux Pizza and talked some more about this show and about theatre and life in general until they kicked us out.  It was fun to talk with someone who is as obsessed with live theatre as I am.

“Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!” runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through October 4, 2008 at Theatre on the Square, except for this Saturday.  This coming Saturday, September 20, 2008, is “Mass Hysteria,” aka “Indy’s Biggest Block Party.”   This was designed to be a fundraiser for TOTS but has turned into a huge event in its own right.  There will be everything from roller derby ladies to gambling, with all kinds of food, music, magic, and more in between.

For more information or to buy a ticket to either the show or the block party, please call 317-685-TOTS or visit the Theatre on the Square website.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

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