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THEATER | THEATER REVIEW

Faded Feline

Slim story and old jokes sap energy of 'Your Cat Is Dead.'

June 18, 1998|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jimmy is having the worst kind of New Year's Eve. He's lost two acting jobs. His girlfriend is breaking up with him. He's being robbed for the third time in as many months. Oh . . . and his cat is dead.

All this comes out in the opening minutes of "P.S. Your Cat Is Dead," which Kahn Artists Productions is staging at the Raven Playhouse. The next 90 intermissionless minutes are fallout.

James Kirkwood's 1978 comedy still has some laugh-out-loud moments, though other jokes are so old they've petrified. But with such a slight plot, it would take a superior cast and direction to make this play worth reviving. This production is simply adequate.

Jimmy (Brad Kahn) confronts his girlfriend, Kate (Lisa Stanley), then discovers that Vito (Kevin McDonald), the repeat burglar, has been hiding under the bed. Apparently at his breaking point, Jimmy attacks Vito and ties him to the kitchen counter.

The central joke is that Jimmy cuts off Vito's pants, so McDonald spends the final hour of the show with his bare butt center stage. Perhaps this was risque in 1978 when the play was first produced, though one doubts it. Either way, it's not enough to carry the story--or lack thereof--through another hour.

Kahn and McDonald manage to construct a feasible rapport, which is important given they have to forge a hard-to-believe friendship. Kahn, like his character, doesn't seem much of a risk-taker on stage.

His Jimmy is solid, though his temper in the first scene doesn't leave much surprise when he snaps in dealing with Vito. McDonald, a supposed tough street punk and former hustler, is likewise a bit too soft, even early on.

While engaging and funny, he resorts to stereotypical characteristics when he confesses--quite easily--that he's bisexual.

Here's where director Fran Maddocks needed to do more to breathe new life into this 20-year-old play. Even if the audience isn't shocked, it should be surprised, if not by Vito's bisexuality, then by what he reveals about himself afterward.

The uncredited set design is imperfect. The counter to which Vito is tied blocks sight lines to the opposite side of the stage. The curtain kept getting caught in an obviously glassless window. And while a black box might work for minimalist staging, here it seems simply lazy not to have painted the walls to look something like a 1978 West Village apartment.

Ditto for the distractingly terrible sound quality of the music played between scenes. A cheap cassette played through an eight-track converter in a car stereo might have sounded worse--if it was under water.

BE THERE

"P.S. Your Cat Is Dead," at Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends June 28. $15. (213) 883-0223. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

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