Blood on the Cat's Neck
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
August 14, 2009
It's very interesting to consider how an alien might interpret human behavior. How would we be viewed? Would we be misinterpreted? Or would our behavior give us away and the interpretation actually be a perfect analysis that we choose to ignore or cannot see because we are too immersed in our falsehoods? Rainer Werner Fassbinder looks at this question with clever and probing dialogue in his 1971 play Blood on the Cat's Neck.
Let's say the alien is a voluptuous blonde in a torn dress named Phoebe Zeitgeist. She lands in a bourgeois cocktail party and what she finds is a group of rotten people in their natural habitat. What will she do? In the end, I would say makes the right decision.
The play is divided into three distinct segments. It opens with a series of monologues that establish nine characters—the cop, the butcher, the lover, the soldier, the teacher, the wife of a dead soldier, the girl, the model, and the mistress. The monologues are sometimes directed at Phoebe and sometimes to the audience. Each character is given the chance to reveal a little about themselves as the lights move about the stage. From there we begin a long series of short dialogues from which Phoebe learns to speak by listening in and repeating what phrases she finds most important. Finally she speaks but she only knows the phrases and not what they mean. Some party-goers think she's drunk while others think she's brilliant. How bourgeois!
I found Fassbinder's concept very intriguing. He has a lot to say about human behavior and how badly we tend to treat each other. He shows us how we can be complicit in our own oppression and downfall. However, the structure of the play takes away from the concept to some extent. The opening monologues are well written and even a little sad as the dark, lonely, and pitiable sides of these characters are revealed to us, but they essentially go nowhere. In the next segment, the characters mingle and chat. The actors maintain the characters for a while but they also play other characters that we don't know. Just other people at the party. And that lost me at times. Phoebe eavesdrops on these conversations and at the end of every single one the lights change and she repeats the phrases she'll remember. This segment goes on far too long for this convention to remain interesting. The last segment is the only really engaging and active segment in the entire play. I won't give it away here.
Ian W. Hill does a fine job directing a cast of almost a dozen in such a small space. He creates an atmosphere of theatre from the very beginning. By that I mean I was very aware that these are actors in a theatre and they are acting. It's almost Brechtian in its jarring reality of the presentation. The pacing tended to drag just a little bit but I had the feeling that the script did not allow for a much faster pace.
The ensemble is good. There are a few weak links in the cast but there are others that stand out. Gyda Arber as Phoebe is very good at looking perplexed and when she comes alive so does the play. Danny Bowes is honest and well-balanced as the cop. Toya Lillard also shines as the mistress.
Overall, Blood on the Cat's Neck is an interesting concept and has a wonderful ending but getting there that is a bit tedious. Still, so few directors are willing to take risks such as this and for that reason I think checking this out may be worth an hour of your time.