Director Jacques Lemay giving notes backstage before the opening of Cats
(photo via Theatre Calgary Twitter feed)
The Mystery of Cats
A perennial takes Theatre Calgary's audience by storm
by Ryan Hurl
The Mystery of Cats in our collective imagination dates back to the pharaohs. Wherever man has gone, with our domineering quests for luxury, a cat has never been far behind.
Unlike dogs - who bound into our lives becoming substitutes for love, affection, and character definition - cats have a more symbiotic relationship with their human kin, leaving a burning mystery in man's ego: How can we "own" this feline pet, yet never truly know it's inner workings - and worse yet, not be able to command and dominate this shifty beast. It was a particularly haunting question in the booming capitalistic empire that was the 80's, when ownership and luxury was the name of the game. But maybe not much has changed - perhaps one of the reasons why the Cats came back?
The nice thing about Andrew Loyd Webber's Cats, is that you don't really need to think when you experience it. You don't have to follow a storyline or focus or - heck! - invest any emotional energy at all if you don't want to. The great thing is you can still feel like you are having some kind of experience. It's kinda like owning a cat as a pet. This may be perhaps why Cats is produced often and continues to turn proscenium theatres everywhere into junkyards, where it doesn't really matter if it’s act one or act two. It, like many things from the 80s, is just too convenient to dismiss.
Cats is about spectacle. It's the campy attempt to humanize the wild freedom we all long for.
Theatre Calgary's production of Cats follows the recipe to the T, creating a carbon-copy of the show that has nine lives. You get your young sexy actors dancing around in dance belts with wild untamed hair that - if you squint - could perhaps look like ears, if it weren't for the distraction of the almost tribal make-up that sorta kinda looks feline. The broken-down iconic set of the back alley that has been trashed to the point of looking like a war zone is more reminiscent of an apocalyptic prophecy that any self-respecting cat would simply go out of their way to avoid. But I think that's what we love about cats. They can be surrounded by utter destruction, yet still hold complete pride and egotism. Even in a junkyard, cats will find a way to sing about their individual talents.
And just like the 80's every cat in this junk yard is running around waiting to be the "Chosen one." Cats are mean! And we love that too! They steal, they fight, they don't pay attention to each other, and it’s bracing to grow old in Cat world, we can relate! So all cats scream and dance trying to decide who gets to transcend this nightmare, and hopefully finally find the glory every cat deserves. Cats is about spectacle. It's the campy attempt to humanize the wild freedom we all long for. It's about bad synth music, colored lights, explosions, elaborate dance routines, and hopefully triple-threat actors - sometimes not - but hey!, it’s hard being a cat.
It matters little. Everyone who experiences a production of this sort eventually just surrenders to the fact that a bunch of men and women are meowing and stretching and might be telling a story? We release into laughter and goofiness that rekindles the child in all of us. You can't take this seriously. And maybe that's the point. And really, that's what most people want when they go to the theatre, right? Or anywhere that's not "work" for that matter.
So - shit! - rent a hotel room, take the Missus down to Theatre Calgary. Turn off the Blackberry or iPhone. Maybe even drink some whisky. Get trashed. Put on a zany tie and too much cologne and get a really fat cigar, and act like you're part of the Rothschild dynasty. Then totally forget what year it is, meow like a mad man, and join Theatre Calgary, and jump over the paper moon.
Because one day it will be 2015. We will have solar panels. And it will all have gone to the Dogs.