Four of the best actors I’ve seen this century appeared on stage last weekend to present playwright William Mastrosimone’s timely and chilling play, “Cat’s Paw.” The actors are truly amazing, and so is the play.
It involves a political activist named Victor (Sean McHugh), the founder of a militant group called Earth Now, which he claims is an “army of warriors” dedicated to protesting the current disastrous state of the environment. He is particularly concerned with the toxicity of the nation’s water supply, and to get the government’s attention he has deployed his impassioned acolytes as suicide bombers to blow up a number of public buildings in addition to performing “random acts of violence.”
The only acolyte we meet, however, is an earnest young woman named Cathy (Ivy Beech) who is obviously as enthralled by Victor’s mission as she is by Victor himself.
And then there is David Darling (Vito Viscuso), who has been kidnapped and held hostage long enough to become a quivering, compliant wreck in the throes of a nervous breakdown. He displays his fears by prefacing everything he says with “May I ask a question?” Who he is and why he’s there is not explained until the play is nearly over, but the last scenes will leave you chilled and quivering yourself.
These three are housed in a grungy wooden warehouse somewhere outside of Washington, D.C. filled with cardboard boxes holding various kinds of explosives and shelves holding other unpleasant accoutrements.
Set designer David Potts is to be congratulated for putting together an environment that is as ugly and depressing as a claustrophobic space like that can be.
In short order, Jessica Lyons (Deborah Marlowe), a much-respected television news anchor, is allowed to enter. She has been invited by Victor to televise an interview with David Darling, who up to this time had been assumed to have been killed by whoever had abducted him. (“Assumption is the mother of all screwups,” Victor notes.)
It is part of Victor’s plan, however, to join David’s interview in order to reprimand the Environmental Protection Agency, the government in general, and the media that colludes with corporations that are indifferent to the destruction of the planet as they race to provide exorbitant profits to their investors.
He delivers his manifesto shortly after a so-called “terrorist attack” has killed 12 senators. Victor defends this action of his “bomber-warriors” and launches an intense monologue to justify his convictions. He is challenged, however, by Jessica, who refutes nearly everything he says, making their ongoing exchanges extraordinarily trenchant and gripping.
Cathy, too, delivers an emotional speech about the epiphany she experienced when she watched a young member of Earth Now douse herself in gasoline and set herself on fire to emphasize her commitment to Victor’s message.
Every moment of this play, superbly directed by Stephen Rothman, rocks your senses as it twists its way to its unexpected end. Each of the principals exposes his innermost beliefs as well as the nature of his character, and absorbing it all is, literally, a challenge that will stay with you long after the actors have left the stage.
“Cat’s Paw,” is presented by the 2014 Ovation Award-Winning Actors Co-op as they celebrate their 25th Anniversary Season. It can be seen at Crossley Theatre, 1760 North Gower Street, on the grounds of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through April 30, with Saturday matinees added at 2:30 p.m. on April 1 and 8th.
There will be no performances on April 14, 15, and 16.
For tickets, call (323) 462-8460 or visit www.ActorsCo-op.org.
ACTORS: Sean McHugh and Vito Viscuso star in the ACTORS CO-OP production of “CAT’S-PAW” by William Mastrosimone and directed by Stephen Rothman and now playing at the ACTORS CO-OP Crossley Theatre in Hollywood.
PHOTO CREDIT: Lindsay Schnebly