THE CAT'S MEOWBy Steven Peros
ONSTAGE in Bedford
Director – Mike Hathaway
Stage Manager – Neil Farrell
Assistant Stage Manager – Tonya Garcia
Lighting Design – Adam Livingston
Sound Design – Kevin Brazil
Costume Design – Hope Cox
Wig Design – Logan Coley Broker
Prop Design – Dawn Blasingame
Set Design – Mike Hathaway
Scenic Artist – TJ Firneno
Master Carpenter – James Scroggins
Running Crew – Jenny Sanchez
Board Op – Kevin Brazil
Artistic Director – Michael Winters
Elinor Glyn – Rose Anne Holman
Thomas Ince – Andrew Manning
Margaret Livingston – Tammy Partanen
George Thomas – Nolan Shaver
Marion Davies – Elizabeth Conly
Charlie Chaplin – TJ Firneno
Louella Parsons – Kristin M Burgess
William Randolph Hearst – Allen Matthews
Joseph Willicombe – Nathan Scott
Dr. Daniel Goodman – Alex Wade
Mrs. Goodman/ Mrs. Ince – Courtney Mitchell
Celia Moore – Lyndi Wade
Didi Dawson – Madyson Greenwood
Reviewed Performance: 10/6/2018
Reviewed by Kathleen Morgan, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Opening the show with an intensely captivating narration, Rose Anne Holman played Elinor Glyn, a popular romance novelist of the era. The audience hung on the every word of this woman who must be a master storyteller in her day-to-day life. Holman’s diction was clear and inviting as she managed to express herself with both wisdom and wit. Not exclusively a narrator, the character of Elinor Glyn flitted throughout scenes and quickly had the respect of every other character in the show. Holman’s interaction with the other actors was powerful, and more cheeky than you’d expect from a character of her age.
Equally captivating was the mogul himself, William Randolph Hearst (Allen Matthews). With a booming voice, portly figure, and powerful presence, Allen’s physiognomy is exactly what I imagine Hearst’s to have been those many years ago. Allen began the show as the commanding host of a magnificent yacht party. As the show progressed and Hearst began to have doubts as to the loyalty of his mistress, Marion Davies, jealousy crept in on a slow boil. By the end of the show, Hearst’s chilling ruthlessness was in full force. Matthews delivered a spot-on portrayal of this publishing and Hollywood powerhouse.
Playfully portraying the actress-turned-kept woman, Elizabeth Conly aced the role of Marion Davies. At first, Conly’s performance was happy-go-lucky as she greeted and entertained guests aboard Heart’s yacht. However, as the story unraveled, the audience realized that Davies was not as hopelessly devoted as she seemed- something that became clear whenever her and Charlie Chaplin were in the same room. By the second act, Davies’ inner conflict with her passion towards Charlie and her love for Hearst came to a head in a particularly challenging scene where she and Chaplin argued about what would become of them and their future. She was overwhelmed with emotion, and yet she was neither hysterical nor over-the-top. Graceful, charming, and yet burdened with despair, Conly delivered a nuanced and sublime portrayal of Marion Davies.
The third point of the Hearst-Davies love triangle was Charlie Chaplin (TJ Firneno). Bold and confident in his dogged pursuit of Marion, Firneno brought a character that most of us have only seen in slapstick silent films to life. Despite his ardent confessions of love for Ms. Davies, an air of doubt lingered around Chaplin as many references were made to his personal indiscretions. Despite this, Firneno excelled at capturing the tenacious spirit of a man who relentlessly pursues the woman he loves.
Playing another tenacious character was Andrew Manning in the role of Thomas Ince. Throughout much of the show, Ince attempts to persuade Hearst into taking him on as a business partner. Struggling at the thought of becoming a Hollywood has-been, Ince's self-doubt is only revealed in a scene with actress Margaret Livingston. Although Ince overall delivered a strong performance, he frequently stumbled over words in the first half of the show, causing him to start over or repeat himself. The beautiful actress, Margaret Livingston, was played by Tammy Partanen. Although initially discreet about her affair, Margaret's frustration at not being public with her lover boiled over in the second act where she revealed her affair in the most cavalier way to the journalist, Louella “Lolly” Parsons. Unlike several of the other actresses onboard the yacht, Margaret was generally professional and kept out of creating drama. Partanen perfectly executed this interesting and multi-faceted character.
Although seeming silly and dim-witted at times, we discover that Lolly Parsons (Kristin M Burgess) is an exacting and master negotiator. Burgess’ performance was nothing short of delightful. From her first star struck moments aboard The Oneida to the dinner scene where she pantomimed meeting and charming her fellow guests, Burgess provided some much-needed comic relief in an otherwise serious show. Her feigned silliness gave way to a moment of ruthlessness towards the end as she used leverage to her absolute advantage.
Playing two actually silly actresses aboard Hearst’s yacht were Lyndi Wade as Celia Moore and Madyson Greenwood as Didi Dawson. Always ready for a hit of moonshine and a Charleston, these two vixens stirred up trouble and mischief wherever they went. These young women brought an air of levity and haughtiness to any scene they were in. At the opposite end of the decency spectrum were Alex Wade portraying Dr. Daniel Goodman, and Courtney Mitchell who played both Mrs. Goodman and Mrs. Ince. Mrs. Goodman’s puritanical nature was comedic and a sharp contrast to the philandering ways of several other characters. Her repulsion at being asked by Celia if her husband was her lover was full of comic disgust. For all of Mitchell’s righteous indignation, her husband Dr. Goodman was mild-mannered. A people-pleaser, he played both the affable husband as well as Hearst’s yes-man.
Portraying Hearst’s lackey and assistant was Nathan Scott in the role of Joseph Willicombe. Scott always seemed to be there when Hearst needed an order to be carried out, and was always ready to oblige his employer. Nolan Shaver played a somewhat more dynamic character as George Thomas, a colleague of Thomas Ince who wants to get in with Hearst, although he’s much less ambitious than Ince himself. Though perfectly confident and charming, Shaver's character provided a contrast to Ince, who would stop at nothing to do business with "old WR."
The set design for The Cat’s Meow was one of the most creative and eye-catching that I’ve seen this year. For scenes that took place on the deck and dining room, several rotating blue and gold panels flanked the stage. In bedroom and cabin scenes, these panels revolved to reveal built-in beds that folded down in a very efficient use of space. Furthermore, the stage hands doing the scene changes were dressed in maid’s and butler’s clothing, about what you’d expect servants to wear in that time period. The lighting design was well done, and was particularly moving in one scene where a reddish-pink light illuminated Hearst from behind, revealing a haunting and sinister silhouette. Finally, the choice of period-appropriate ragtime and dance tunes were spot-on for both the dance scenes as well as the transitions. Of course, a show set in the 1920s would not be complete without a host of dazzling, beaded and slinky dresses, and The Cat's Meow didn't disappoint. The female characters each had different outfits throughout the play, each one eye-catching and fun in their own right.
Although I feel that the show itself was a bit slow, Director Mike Hathaway did an exceptional job with it. A very dialogue-heavy play, Hathaway creatively kept scenes interesting by doing things like having one couple illuminated as they spoke, and quickly fade as another couple and their conversation became illuminated. The actors were brilliant and believable, and generally had great stage chemistry. All in all, The Cat's Meow is a fun and intriguing peek into the past that will have you wondering about what really happened on that yacht all those years ago.
ONSTAGE in Bedford
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sunday matinee at 3 pm
Bedford Boys Ranch, 2819 Forest Ridge Drive, Bedford, TX
To purchase tickets, visit the ONSTAGE in Bedford website
Adults - $22
Senior/Student/Educator/First Responder - $17