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Apocalypse Meow? VLT’s “Cat Lady” is a hiss-terical romp

Human actors pretending to be cats fighting as their "cat lady" tries to interupt it.
Brian Bull
Mortal (left, played by David Landon) tries to fend off Pester (right, played by Eve James) as Kathleen the Cat Lady (Lisa Roth, standing) tries to restore peace in her home in VLT's latest show, "Cat Lady."

There’s no pussyfooting around the fact that live theater is back. And feline obsession has proven to be the purr-fect mews for a new play that’s running now through April 23 at the Very Little Theater in Eugene.

The titular Cat Lady contends with six cats with differences, relatives with bigger differences, and a rescue kitten named Turkey. The fur flies early on as her sister and brother-in-law try to get her to move out, but only fire up the clowder.

Very Little Theater director Kali Kardas is the ringmaster of this frazzled tail.

“This play has been a pet project of mine -pun intended- since I met the playwright Jen Ferro in 2017,” Kardas told KLCC at a recent rehearsal.

Both Kardas and playwright Jen Ferro have multiple cats back home, which certainly gave them ins-purr-ation for this world-premiere production.

“I wrote it to try to be as hilarious with cat antics,” said Ferro. “And of course, having six actors having the opportunity to play cats -- all six of them up on one stage at the same time -- it leads to a lot of zany antics.”

Ferro said she’s worked in a bit inspired by her home cats, which involves the six human actors chasing a moth in the background. And Kardas said many times she’d come home after a rehearsal and find her own cats moving and interacting in ways the actors just carried on out on stage.

“It's been a challenge to work on the cat work, work on the character work, and when we first tried to put it all together, there was definitely some traffic jams,” laughed Kardas.

Herding cats: A VLT director on blocking “Cat Lady”

Watching even a few minutes’ worth of “Cat Lady," it’s clear that this production is not anywhere close to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Broadway romp, “CATS'' where extravagant felines sing T.S. Eliot poems. The cats have less fanciful monikers (their names are Pester, Marblehead, Mortal, Miss Priss, Heaves, Boo Hoo, and Turkey), cough up hairballs, and are more apt to burst into a hissy fight than song.

Kardas said it’s all very faithful to the cats most people know and celebrate, for their flaws and charms.

“Cats are super fun," she said. "They're the kings of the internet. There’s always jokes about cats and fun videos about cats. And so I thought it would bring in new audiences. People who wouldn't normally go see a play might come see 'Cat Lady' because they want to see people acting like cats.”

Woman in cat shirt and fuzzy cat slippers sitting on couch.
Brian Bull
Kathleen (Lisa Roth) does her best to care for her six cats while also helping people shackled with big medical expenses and dealing with her combative relatives.

Kardas adds there’s more dimensions to this show than just frolicking felines. The Cat Lady herself – named Kathleen – spends her time and energy not only rescuing Turkey the Kitten, but also people deep in medical debt. This advocacy, paired with family struggles, has its own part in “Cat Lady.”

“I think the drama and the comedy sort of season each other,” explained Ferro. “The addition of some more serious content accentuates the comedy throughout and having some more serious content in the play kind of grounds it.”

Production on “Cat Lady” was postponed several years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but now the curtain’s ready to rise on this frisky catastrophe of a story.

All actors save for Kathleen the Cat Lady (Lisa Roth) alternately play humans and cats in the show. Other performers include Jessica Ruth Baker (Tina/Heaves), Thomas Weaver (Troy/Boo Hoo), Josh Desatoff (Andy/Marblehead), Kathy LaMontagne (Cindy/Miss Priss), Eve James (Amber/Pester), David Landon (Josh/Mortal), and Sarah Glidden (various callers/Turkey the Rescue Kitten.)

The shift from human to feline is a fun and challenging exercise, relying a lot on physicality and capturing the essence of cat habits and movements. Kardas told KLCC that she really wanted to play with the theme of anthropomorphization, including how some people prefer animals over other humans.

Tickets are selling out quickly for all performances of “Cat Lady.” As of April 11, VLT reported that 80% of tickets were already gone.

Kardas added it’s important to arrive early as there’s only general seating, and warned that the front row is the “splash zone” for the show’s lively cat antics.

©2023, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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