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Sean McHugh and Deborah Marlowe in Cat's Paw at Actors Co-op (Photo by  Lindsay Schnebley)
Sean McHugh and Deborah Marlowe in Cat’s Paw at Actors Co-op (Photo by Lindsay Schnebley)

Cat’s Paw

Reviewed by Neal Weaver
Actors Co-op
Through April 30

An obscure warehouse in Washington, D.C. is the headquarters of a shadowy organization that claims to be devoted to the preservation of the planet. The leader and mastermind of the group is the flamboyant and self-dramatizing Victor (Sean McHugh). The warehouse contains military weapons, bomb-making materials, and a video camera. Victor is holding as his hostage David Darling (Vito Viscuso), an executive of the Environmental Protection Agency, and he has sent his assistant and underling Cathy (Ivy Beech) to kidnap at gunpoint a TV journalist and crusading celebrity, Jessica Lyons (Deborah Marlowe).  Earlier in the day he dispatched another operative, Martin, on a supposed suicide-bombing mission to the U.S. Senate, where he died while causing the deaths of several senators.

Victor apparently is concerned with his image, and hopes to use Jessica to deliver his message to the world. He’s using Darling, the EPA man, as bait to persuade her to do an interview that will permit him to present a heroic image of himself. But as a highly professional journalist, Jessica already intent on packaging him for television. The only bone of contention is the nature of the package. He’s mightily offended when she refers to him as an eco-terrorist, whereas he prefers to be called an environmental commando.

Victor seems obsessed with events years that transpired earlier at a place called Crystal River. There, as in Flint, Michigan, the water supply was hopelessly polluted with dangerous industrial waste. A young woman had immolated herself in protest, and Darling had been the government apologist for the polluters.

Jessica must carry on a battle of wits with the passionately preaching Victor, as well as understand the other two people in the warehouse. Cathy’s commitment to the environment seems sincere but fanatical. Darling is cowed and frightened by the bullying Victor, and eager to please him if he knew how. Victor remains enigmatic, but more and more evidence seems to suggest that he is not quite what he claims to be.

Playwright William Mastrosimone cleverly peels away the levels of reality to reveal the nature of each of his characters, but all the talk about protecting the environment seems like window-dressing, to lend the play a semblance of political relevance. Ultimately the piece seems like a variation on Mastrosimone’s earlier play Extremities, a melodramatic character study of a feisty woman held captive by a charismatic psychopath.

Director Stephen Rothman gives the piece a top-notch production on David Potts’ exceptionally detailed warehouse set. And all four actors acquit themselves handsomely. McHugh’s Victor is a deftly layered portrait of a dangerous man — good at persuading others to lay down their lives for the cause, while carefully preserving an escape clause for himself. Beech’s Cathy is the most sympathetic of the characters, as she finally realizes that the cause she believes in is fatally compromised. Viscuso skillfully captures the fearful timidity of Darling, a highly sympathetic figure till we realize his complicity. And Marlowe’s Jessica is a ruthlessly ambitious and resourceful woman, as obsessed with her career ambitions as she is with getting the story.

 

The Actors Co-op’s Crossley Theatre, on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, 1760 N. Gower Street, Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m;, Sun., 2:30 p.m. Additional Saturday matinees on April 1 & 8, 2;30 P.M. No performances over Easter weekend, April 14-16. (323) 462-8460 or www.ActorsCo-op.org. Running time: One hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.

 

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