nytheatre.com review by Shelley Molad
July 15, 2007
Cat-her-in-e is a one-woman show written and performed by Amy Staats. An imaginative coming-of-age story, Cat-her-in-e is based on memories taken from Staats's childhood visits with her older, troubled cousin Catherine.
Like many memory plays, the narrative begins in the present day and follows with a stream of flashbacks; we watch Amy grow: timid at four, precocious at eight, free-spirited at 20, and apprehensively reflecting on her life at present. But the central focus of this play is not Amy, it is her cousin Catherine, as seen through Amy's perspective.
12 years old and flipping through Seventeen magazine, Catherine appears to be intimidating, self-assured, and rebellious. Amy is instantly drawn to her cousin the first time they meet and incites her to play. They engage in games that both excite and frighten Amy. Staats's portrayal of cousin Catherine as a make-believe evil nanny is humorous and at times shockingly funny.
The story takes place in Shelby, North Carolina and Charleston, South Carolina, and so the characters conceived for this piece may seem out of place in New York City. Playing herself, her cousins, her father, and her aunt (to name a few), Staats does a remarkable job creating a backdrop for her scenes. She inhabits each character from within, adapting to his or her physicality, voice, expression, and movement. By attaching identifiable traits to each character, Staats makes it easy for the audience to follow her rapid transitions. The transitions are so fluid there are moments that come as a complete surprise, and both we and the actor are lucky to experience them.
But when Staats portrays herself at the age of 20, the line between character and narrator becomes muddled. In order to differentiate between herself as a character and herself as narrator, it seems that she is forced to create a caricature of herself that feels distant and removed.
There comes a point in theatre where you must stop and ask yourself the following questions: What story is the actor trying to tell? Why is he or she telling this story? And what is the purpose of telling this story? Though the piece is written with the strength and clarity of a memoir, as a play Cat-her-in-e is far from cataclysmic. Rather, this is a simple story that relies on the strength of its characters.
Cat-her-in-e makes a full circle, with Staats returning to where she left off at the start—having confirmed that her perceptions of Catherine have changed, the impression and influence her cousin has had on her will nonetheless remain with her forever—a satisfying end to a seemingly aimless piece.
Perhaps we are meant to reflect on the important relationships in our own lives, and the people who have come to influence who we are. Do they know? Is it time to let them know?