Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

The Cat's Meow
Table 8 Productions
Review by Mary LaFrance


Cory Benway, Kady Heard, and Gary Lunn
Photo by Richard Brusky
You can't defame the dead (legally speaking, that is) and it's a darn good thing. Otherwise we wouldn't have the fun that is The Cat's Meow. Steven Peros's play (which he later adapted for the film directed by Peter Bogdanovich) implicates a virtual Who's Who of Hollywood names in the mysterious 1924 death of studio head Tom Ince. The story is based on actual rumors that circulated at the time; never proved but never disproved, the whispers of scandal and cover-up were juicy and therefore persistent.

As the story opens, a boatload (literally) of Hollywood luminaries gathers for a birthday bash hosted by media mogul William Randolph Hearst and his young mistress, the rising starlet Marion Davies, on his luxury yacht the Oneida. Guest of honor Ince hopes that Hearst will bail out his struggling film studio. The other guests include ambitious film columnist Louella Parsons, film star/womanizer Charlie Chaplin, Ince's mistress Margaret Livingston (another starlet, of course), English fiction writer Elinor Glyn (who also narrates), and Hearst's covey of hangers-on and yes-men. Several of the guests are facing critical junctures in their personal or professional lives, and all of them stand to gain something by their association with Hearst. However, Hearst is preoccupied with Chaplin's brazen attempts to seduce Davies. Schemes are hatched, tensions rise, shots are fired, and the cover-up begins.

Troy Heard of Table 8 Productions has adapted this lively tale for an immersive stage production, currently making its home at The Velveteen Rabbit in the Arts District. The long, dark-paneled bar with creative chandeliers and sprawling overstuffed furniture feels period-appropriate as a stand-in for the Oneida. The drinks aren't bad either.

For the most part, Heard has staged the action well, enabling good sight lines throughout the seating areas despite the confines of the long and narrow space. Only the lovemaking scenes are clumsy, as the participants hump and bump awkwardly on a wheeled gurney that gets whisked rather gracelessly offstage.

While Bogdanovich's film was somewhat tame, this truncated adaptation moves more swiftly, making for a fun and lively evening. The accelerated script misfires only in the climactic shooting scene, where the witnesses barely have time to react before diving into conspiracy mode.

Cory Benway gives the evening's most stirring portrayal as Charlie Chaplin, whose creative genius appears to be lodged firmly in his trousers. Chaplin may have a roving eye, but as played by Benway he is irresistible. On the surface he is guileless, and completely sincere in his courtship of Davies. Benway's Chaplin is a case of arrested development. A permanent adolescent, he never intends to cause harm; he thinks only of himself, and actually believes that each woman he pursues is "the one." Benway embodies Chaplin so completely that his casual saunter even suggests the Tramp's famous gait.

Unfortunately, the scenes depicting Chaplin's seduction of Davies are off-balance. Kady Heard — a gifted performer in musical productions — gives us an oddly subdued Davies. She does not project the vivacity of a Hollywood starlet on the rise or a suitable object for passion and jealousy. She is convincing, however, in her protestations of love for Hearst.

Kellie Wright is stylish and commanding as the worldly Elinor Glyn, and Timothy Cummings disappears nicely into the character of Tom Ince, revealing an easy stage presence and a naturalistic acting style that is particularly well-suited to this immersive staging. Natalie Senecal brings earthy realism to the role of Margaret, conveying palpable impatience at Ince's failure to commit. Gary Lunn appears not quite comfortable in Hearst's skin; although his performance rings true at times, conveying the simmering menace beneath the placid but never-quite-jovial exterior, Lunn never fully inhabits the role. No doubt it is a challenge to portray the complexity of a man who plays his cards so close to his chest, and Lunn's performance may yield greater riches later in the run.

Jeremy Gill's sound design transports us back in time and aptly sets the mood for the evening's misadventures. Kimberly Rahi designed the stylish costumes.

Off-beat and fun, The Cat's Meow might be the right touch of scandal to accompany your favorite adult beverage.

The Cat's Meow opened August 7, 2016, for an indefinite run (at least through September 4) every Sunday at 7 pm (the bar opens at 6 pm) at The Velveteen Rabbit, 1218 S. Main St., Las Vegas, Nevada 89104. For tickets ($25 at the bar, $30 for comfy lounge seating; all tickets include a cocktail specially concocted for the event) and further information, go to www.table8lv.com. Ages 21+ only.

Cast

William Randolph Hearst: Gary Lunn
Marion Davies: Kady Heard
Charlie Chaplin: Cory Benway
Thomas H. Ince: Timothy Cummings
Elinor Glyn: Kellie Wright
Louella Parsons: April Sauline
George: Erik Amblad
Margaret Livingston: Natalie Senecal
Willicombe: Bob Gratrix
Dr. Goodman: Stephen R. Sisson
Mrs. Goodman: Joy Demain
Celia: Rebecca Reyes
Didi: Nicole Unger


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