Beck Center’s ‘Cat’s Paw’ continues to ask the tough question
There are two suggested warnings given to anyone attending the Beck Center for the Arts current production of William Mastrosimone’s “Cat’s Paw”. The first is online at their ticket prompt that reads “Recommended for ages 16 and older due to subject matter, onstage violence, and substantial adult language.” The other is repeated twice prior to the show with klaxon horn sounding that suggests that audience members “prior to the show do what you would ordinarily do at intermission.” I would strongly suggest heeding both warnings.
A third warning is probably warranted as well that “anyone who is easily excitable or with a weak constitution might want to sit this one out.” This is not a show for wimps. As you enter the Studio Theater you find yourself in a warehouse. It is 1983, Washington D.C. in frightening detail as C4 explosive charges are wired in sequence and attached to the walls at measured distances. There are drums of toxic substances as well as crates of weapons distributed about. In the center is a table with two chairs. On the left wall is a map of the Washington D.C. area with a series of yellow post-it notes pasted on it.
Enter eco-freedom fighter Victor (Chris Richards) and leader of “Earth Now!” and his prisoner, a bare footed EPA administrator Darling (Michael Dempsey) who has been held for weeks in solitude. It is feeding time as well as time to prepare for a press conference. Darling is in total subjugation beginning each request with, “May I ask a question?” After eating a meager meal, Darling is told to put his suit on as they have arranged for a reporter to interview him.
A red phone on the wall rings twice indicating that Cathy (Grace Favarro), a devoted member of Victor’s terrorist cell, has arrived with the kidnapped reporter, Jessica (Lara Mielcarek). Darling is led back to his off stage room.
Earlier that day, a suicide bomb attack had been made at the EPA headquarters killing 27 people of which 12 were U.S. Senators. A massive man hunt is underway with the sounds of helicopters flying over at regular intervals. Victor has Cathy take some stinger missiles to the roof in preparation for a possible attack. At one point he arms the C4 charges on the walls but is calmed down by Cathy to stand them down.
Jessica is a reporter of note having covered other environmental protest stories over the years including Crystal Creek where a young woman burned her self alive in protest while on camera. Victor wants Jessica to do a filmed interview but continuously interrupts the process wanting complete and total control of what goes on the tape. An argument ensues between he and the reporter as neither one wishes to relinquish control.
They finally come to terms and after an interview with Cathy, Darling is brought out to have his say. Being in a terrified state and thinking that he has been injected with a truth serum, Darling is not sure what he is allowed to reveal. He wants to get word out to his family that he is well but is too afraid to speak. As the interview proceeds with a four way heated discussion erupting between Victor, Jessica, Cathy and Darling and as the intensity increases weapons are brandished with intent to harm.
The play, written in 1984, was the result of the playwright being shocked by the questionable methods used by those claiming to be environmentalists. As in evidence of 12-inch nails being driven into trees in order to injure the loggers sent to fell the timber and attempted car bomb attacks, Mastrosimone was inspired to write a moral piece in protest to the protests.
As for the Beck production, it is intense from the get go. As an audience member, one feels that things could go south in a hurry and total annihilation is a distinct possibility. Chris Richards convincingly plays the seemingly schizophrenic Victor shifting from friendly lecturer to screaming gun toting mad man in the blink of an eye. Grace Favarro as Cathy is totally devoted to the cause but when confronted with the facts (her friend Martin from their cell may not have been a suicide bomber after all but murdered by remote control) her resolution begins to waver.
Lara Mielcarek as Jessica is splendid as the reporter who will not back down or compromise her values. This is not her first rodeo and she knows how to handle gun toting mad men with huge egos. Michael Dempsey as Darling plays the Stockholm syndrome sufferer to the max. He simply wants to go home but at the same time not cause harm to his captors.
Cheri Prough Devol’s scenic and lighting design is perfection, filling the stage area with just the right amount of props to set the scene. Costumes by Inda Blatch-Geib also helps in moving the narrative along. The work is directed by William Roudebush who sees that the tension level is maintained throughout to the surprise ending.
While not a show for the weak of heart, this production will find you asking the question such as “Do the ends justify the means?” and What needs to be done in order to get people to listen and actually do something about the environment.” This is the message that this mainly ignored play spoke of 40 years ago and to this day is still sloughed over. What will it take to wake us up? Take courage and see this play.
The Beck Center for the Arts (17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, Ohio) production of “Cats-Paw” will be on stage in the Studio Theater through October 22, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets go to www.beckcenter.org or call (216) 521-2540.