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THEATER REVIEW : 'P.S. Your Cat Is Dead!': The Paws That Refreshes

April 04, 1993|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONG BEACH — That walking freakout played by Michael Douglas in "Falling Down" isn't the first guy to experience urban implosion on screen or stage. In 1975, James Kirkwood's "P.S. Your Cat is Dead!" took a character through a little of that same city-bred frustration.

There's a big difference, though. Kirkwood's play goes mostly for laughs--and has a huge happy-face ending. Can't say that about "Falling Down," one grim shoutful of hot, bad air. True, there's a lot of cursing in "P.S. Your Cat is Dead!," now in an entertaining if somewhat flimsy production at the Long Beach Playhouse, but it doesn't amount to much. The hero, Jimmy (Sean Moran), has to let off steam, so he gets mouthy. Nasty words are weapons to this sad sack.

Not that he doesn't have his reasons to be angry: He's a struggling (is there any other kind?) New York actor who just lost his job and his girlfriend (Christal Lockwood) and has been the victim of two recent burglaries. And the vet just called with bad news about the cat. What a day!

Jimmy goes bonkers when he finds Vito (Tom Wagner) robbing his home again. He chases the crook, knocks him out and, when the police are slow to respond, turns into a seething, wisecracking vigilante. Vito wakes to find himself tied over the kitchen sink as Jimmy explains his plan to get even.

It amounts to stripping Vito's pants and underwear, making him model silly party hats (it's New Year's Eve) and feeding him cat food, all in the name of justice. Jimmy and Vito talk a lot, at first with hostility (Jimmy enjoys the venting; he's never had a captive audience before) but later with empathy.

By the somewhat soppy second act, Jimmy realizes that Vito's had it hard too; hey, it's tough all over. They're well on their way to becoming pals before this comedy is over.

Kirkwood seems happy merely to tip-toe around his theme of urban helplessness and to reach for easy laughs whenever things get sticky. That's OK: This play knows its limitations. Director Hugh Harrison's staging is fun, mainly because of the rapport between Moran and Wagner.

Wagner opts for something of a stereotype (lots of Brooklynese dese and dose) , but his timing is right on. The best performance comes from Moran, whose Jimmy is precarious but still a guy you'd like to have a drink with. In supporting roles, Lockwood is fine as the unsure and amusingly weary girlfriend, as is Michael Gaffney as her uptight beau.

"P.S. Your Cat is Dead!," Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through April 25 with a matinee April 18 at 2. $10. (310) 494-1616. Running time: 2 hours.

Tom Wagner Vito

Christal Lockwood Kate

Sean Moran Jimmy

Michael Gaffney Fred

A Long Beach Playhouse production of James Kirkwood's play, directed by Hugh Harrison. Set: Michael Roth. Lights and sound: Steven Jay Warner. Costumes: Mary Ann McAfee.

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