Stage Left at The Very Little Theatre is proving to be an incubator for new plays by local playwrights. Cat Lady, a comedy by Eugene playwright/actor/director Jen Ferro, recently opened in that welcoming space to a sold-out audience. Ferro has had several short plays produced, but this is her first full-length offering, directed with humorous elan by Kali Kardas.
The cat lady of the title is Kathleen, portrayed by Lisa Roth as an endearing emotional wreck. Kathleen has two main goals in her extremely messy and frustrating life. She aims to help sick people who are victimized by their complicated, often inaccurate hospital bills through her work-at-home non-profit business, Hospital Bill Rescue.
Her other goal is to rescue abandoned and mistreated cats. In both cases her efforts are only minimally successful, as she faces daily crises that are overblown and rarely resolved.
If you love cats, you’ll probably be amused by their devious antics as expressed by human actors in this production. If you hate cats, you might like the play even more, because it corroborates all the worst characteristics of house cats. In this unruly band of kitties, all of them are distinct. Pester (Eve James) is sleek and beautiful, but she’s a bully who bites, hisses and scratches. She is feared by all the other cats and many humans as well.
Kathy LaMontagne portrays Miss Priss as a wise old dame. Thomas Weaver is pitiful as BooHoo, miserably condemned to wearing a cone of shame. David Landon as Mortal stupidly gets into fights. It is doubtful that he will have nine lives. As Heaves, Jessica Ruth Baker suffers constantly from a torturous furball. Marblehead, played by Josh Desatoff, is a young kitten trying to learn from the others. Sarah Glidden plays Turkey, an injured kitten, as well as numerous other well-defined roles.
Because seven of these eight actors play additional human roles, the show seems populated by quite a crowd. Not all of the humans are able to fully function as significant elements in the play’s development. What is interesting about them, however, is that they are very similar to the cat characters.
Pester, the bullying cat, is also Amber, who abandons her husband, Josh (Mortal), and her unpleasant sons. Josh, once a short-lived lover of Kathleen, wants her to move in with him and take care of the boys. He’s such a dope that he has just bought a motorcycle to appear young and virile. Kathleen asks him, “Don’t you want to live long enough to see your boys go to jail?”
Although Cat Lady touches upon some of the serious problems that plague current life in our country, it seems to skim over them without digging very deeply. An alternative would be to let the plot veer off on an even more absurd path. Whatever Ferro decides, she will undoubtedly learn from this first production before working on the next version.
Meanwhile, the cats are entrancingly credible right from the start. The actors personify them without the aid of costumes — no cat ears, no tails.Their constant meowing, howling, hissing and occasional purring create a cacophonous feline symphony. But cats aren’t people, so we don’t see them grow and change the way humans do. It would be fun if the plot could somehow propel them into greater importance by the end.
Cat Lady is playing at The Very Little Theatre’s Stage Left through April 23; times and tickets through thevlt.com or 541-344-7751.