Cataract: A Temporary Cat / Iraq (Blindness)
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 5, 2009
Cataract is the punning umbrella title for this program of two short plays. The first, a new romantic comedy, is called A Temporary Cat and is written by Mara Lesemann. The second, Iraq (Blindness) is by veteran playwright Mario Fratti and was written in 2003 shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq; this is its New York premiere.
A Temporary Cat is about a young writer named Jack who is suffering from a bad case of writer's block. His girlfriend, Janet, has gotten him a book deal with a major publisher, and a healthy advance which he has managed to squander on booze and whatnot. The book is due Friday (it's Wednesday when the play begins) and Janet is getting testy. Add to this the fact that Jack owes money to the hospice where his mother is dying, and the turmoil in his life is pretty clear.
He does, however, have one solace: Tempa, his kitty cat, loves him unconditionally and he enjoys sitting with her on the sofa, scratching her belly. There is a catch, though: no one else seems to be able to see Tempa (except his other cat, Harry).
Playwright Lesemann gives the piece a nice light touch, as does director Carlo Fiorletta, and high as the stakes seem for Jack, there's never really any doubt that somehow things are going to work themselves out for this hapless fellow who somehow got in over his head. Anyone who believes that cats have supernatural powers will have no trouble buying into the denouement of this tale. Lesemann could be more careful and precise in setting up the ending, though; we don't have quite enough information to piece all of the parts together satisfyingly at the conclusion. (Perhaps the subplot involving Harry and Tempa, such as it is, could be excised to keep the piece at its healthy half-hour running time.)
Ian Campbell Dunn is likeable as Jack, and Laura Thies is appealing as Tempa (though her catlike postures could use a bit of work). Others in the cast include Heather Lee Rogers as Jack's sister Becky, Susan Campanaro as Becky's partner Gina, Lori Kee as Janet, and Fiorletta as Harry the Cat.
Iraq (Blindness) is as serious and earnest as A Temporary Cat is gossamer and whimsical (and indeed the pairing of the two feels, at best, random). Iraq is about a blind soldier, Brian, who has returned from the War and is visiting the family of his best friend, who was killed overseas. Anderson, the father of Brian's comrade, is a Vietnam vet and a rampant Bush fan and supporter of the war. Fratti pits him against Brian, who talks gently about some of the horrors he saw while serving his country. The playwright provides one of his trademark surprise endings here, which of course will not be divulged.
This play is concise and intelligent, but with the new administration in Washington it feels less necessary (thankfully) than it would have even a few years ago. It's an interesting document of a particular moment in our recent history. Simcha Borenstein directs the piece with gravity. Dunn again stars here as Brian, with Fiorletta his opposite as Anderson (Fioretta's vigor in the role is a useful touch). Troy Dane and Gretchen Poulos, as Anderson's son and Brian's girlfriend, respectively, complete the ensemble.
Laralley Productions, which is Lesemann's company, has mounted both pieces with spirit and economy. Kudos, finally, to Ursula Thies and Claudia Bueno Ros, who provided the nifty cat costume for Tempa in the first play on the bill.