Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cat Fight (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

I moved to Los Angeles in 1999 and in all the times seeing theatre here since then I'd given standing ovations exactly twice. Seen lots of really good theatre, wonderful shows worthy of praise. But standing ovations should be something special, an act which one feels compelled to do. There've been times I got stares for not standing when others did.

Cat Fight received my third standing ovation in fifteen years.

The premiere show from the True Focus Theater, this show blends monologues, dance, performance art, song and dance in a tapestry about the feminine. What it means to be a woman today, in our society amidst these times. Good, bad, joyous, horrible and all things in between. Sounds a tad like any one of a dozen or so theatrical pieces going on around the country, doesn't it? But then--isn't this a time to explore that idea, those issues, to ask those very questions? The only real question remains is how Cat Fight measures up.

Credit: Angie Hoover
Doing a blow by blow of what happens in the ninety minutes  of the show serves little purpose. Let me instead note this really does cover a lot ground, often in a way that hits the gut. I'm generally not much of a fan of theatre that has such a specific focus, such an open agenda. But that is because too often what I see is someone trying to tell the audience what to think. Here, we get something more fundamental. Far more. Instead of a lecture, the audience watches a metaphorical spotlight aim right at things that happen all around us. The pressure of women to be mothers. The judgment based on looks or some other surface details. How people talk about rape. More, how motherhood can be glorious, life-changing. How beauty can be found in a thousand different ways. How cruelty comes to be accepted. And more. We the audience are not given an argument, nor answers to questions, but rather a series of experiences that reach right in to pluck the strings of our nervous systems.

This might easily turn into a very long review. For brevity's sake (and to avoid boring readers who would be better served just going to see the show), let me mention a few highlights.

"Which One Are You?" really touched a chord, with a simple yet devastating exploration of identity in terms of pop culture. That sounds soooooo academic, doesn't it? It is not. Rather it makes one laugh, and for fans of a certain t.v. show, one's heart to soar!

Credit: Vanessa Cate
Crystal Salas is an actress I hadn't seen before, but who grabbed my heart several times. The most piercing was something so simple it showed the power of a laser beam. You'll see what I mean in "The Optimist" (more than one member of the audience gasped during it).

Likewise "Trans" proved something of a tour-de-force. The monologue, given by and about born male mid-transformation into female, is written very well. Yet it contains traps for a less-than-stellar actor. Jonica Patella on the other hand is the very opposite. Instead of 'sincere' she is real. Instead of showing off, she simply uses the natural wit of her character. I really could go on and on about how superb I thought that performance is, but instead please see it for yourself.

She's in excellent company! The whole show juxtaposes images of how women are seen, how they see themselves, how they deal with preconceptions, how they change, how even their relationships in objects demonstrate some disturbing truths. For example, there's a double whammy a little more than halfway through involving pole dancing. "The Pole is Raunchy" (with Natalie Hyde doing something edgy and dramatic--she's so often cast in perky roles that other side of her talent goes unseen) proves very uncomfortable to watch, yet Iris Smoot in the following "The Pole is More" reveals another side to exactly the same object.

Credit: Vanessa Cate
Celebration and horror. Degradation and bliss. Loneliness. Community. Struggle. Success. Oppression. Ecstasy. In ninety minutes this ensemble runs the whole gamut and gives us a startling insight we feel (or at least most of us did) down to the marrow. Writer/director Vanessa Cate had collaborators with others such as Caroline Montes and Angie Hoover, along with a company of thirteen startling and vivid performers. Many are new to me like Kire Horton (funny and aching in "I Don't Want Kids"), Meghan Derr, Mariana Leite (another wonderful monologue dubbed "Motherhood"), Alicia Lourim, Chelsea Militano, and Lori J. Ness Quinn (who has a prime attribute for any performer--a face that always seems to have something going on behind it). Deneen Melody, like some others, I've seen before and continue to admire her courage as well as her expressiveness in voice and body.

I cannot think of a single performer in this show who didn't sooner or later take control of the stage, seize my attention and move my heart. That they were able to do so certainly serves as a tribute to their skills. That Cat Fight allows them that opportunity proves the same for the writers, choreographer and director. Not simply for the individual vignettes but how they flow together. To see what I mean, you'll have to see the show. Hopefully, you will.

Cat Fight plays Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm up to July 27, 2014 at ZJU Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, California 91601. You can get tickets ($15 each) at or by calling 805.791.1503 for reservations.

Disclaimer: Vanessa Cate and several others in the cast and crew are friends of mine. More, when a problem involving the graphics for the post card developed Vanessa asked for my help and I gave it. Rather extravagantly, she credited me 'Poster Design' which isn't really accurate. But generous.

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