★★★★☆ - Delicious
Looking for something different; in a non-traditional setting? Travel back to November 1924 and take a cruise off the coast of California. “The Cat’s Meow,” by Steven Peros, now in production at The Velveteen Rabbit, does just that.
Under the direction of Troy Heard, the bar is turned into the Oneida, the yacht purchased by William Randolph Hearst in 1922. Heard makes use of the entirety of the establishment, even the bar itself, to dramatize the mystery revolving around the death of Hollywood filmmaker Thomas Harper Ince, one of Hollywood’s earliest scandals.
Hearst (Gary Lunn) and Ince (Tim Cummings) are only two of the real-life people characterized in the two-act play, based on the film of the same name. The plot of the script revolves around the love triangle of Charlie Chaplin (Cory Benway), Marion Davies (Kady Heard), and Hearst.
Chaplin is played with perfect panache by Cory Benway. There’s no posing; this is not an imitation of the silent era comedian, this is the man brought to life. When Benway professes his love for Marion Davies, and makes an impassioned plea for her to return it, it comes from the gut. He plays each scene with absolute honesty, and uses his entire instrument.
The list of guests on the yacht is part verified and part speculation as the rumors swirled around Ince’s death. One such luminary on this particular manifest is Elinor Glyn, a romance novelist, played deliciously coy by Kellie Wright. Wright knows how to deliver a line full of unspoken intent as she begins the play as the narrator of the story. Her sashay as she wanders the length of the room, addressing the audience, is both easy and deliberate.
Gary Lunn makes a wonderful Hearst, the man who was sometimes called Chief in real life. Lunn breathes true conflict into the character, and therefore into the play. He’s at once gentle and gentlemanly, and in the next instant as frank and bullish, as protective of his empire as a viper. In short, Lunn plays a bastard with ease, but he’s just as at home being the friend.
The role of Ince is not an easy one to play. There’s a need to balance the overly-confident studio executive with the man. Tim Cummings easily pulls it off. When he lays down to law to Marion Davies, he’s firm in his resolve, but Cummings retains a tone of kindness to ensure she knows he’s the friend he’s always been.
An unrecognizable Kady Heard brings a stalwart bravado to Marion Davies as she continues to fend off the advances of Chaplin and remain faithful to Hearst. Heard balances Davies’ love of life and fun with knowing practicality. The ease with which she slips from dancing the Charleston and transitions to self-preservation is stunning. You see it all happening before you, yet it slips into place without being obvious.
The greatest thing about Heard’s astute direction, is that–for the most part–we aren’t given caricatures. The cast delivers the essence of the people, without devolving into imitation.
The exceptions are April Sauline as Louella Parsons. Parsons was a notorious Hollywood gossip columnist, as famous for her behind the scenes gathering, and then spilling, of secrets as she was for championing those who paid her homage. Sauline fills the room with a booming voice, but she has a tendency to deliver dialogue with emphasis on too many words in the same sentence, leaving the intent garbled.
Nicole Unger and Rebecca Reyes as starlets, Celia Moore and Didi Dawson, have a tendency to draw focus when they shouldn’t. It’s important for an actor to remain in the scene even when there are no lines; even when they aren’t privy to what’s happening on the other end of the stage (in this case, bar). But they must remain in character without pulling the focus.
Eric Amblad, Stephen Sisson, Natalie Senecal, Bob Gatrix, and Joy Demain round out the guests and crew of the fateful trip.
Production values are good even without the lights one would find with a traditionally staged play in one of the various venues in town. The décor and resulting atmosphere of The Velveteen Rabbit lend to the play quite well. Even the drinks offered by the establishment are true to the period.
The production is, as one would’ve said during the Roaring Twenties, “the bee’s knees.” In today’s parlance, that means ‘hella good.’
What: The Cat’s Meow
When: 7 p.m. Sundays for an open-ended run
Where: The Velveteen Rabbit, 1218 South Main St.
Tickets: $25-30 (702-423-6366; www.table8lv.com)
Grade: **** (Delicious)
Producer: Table 8 Productions; Director: Troy Heard; Costume Design: not available at press time; Stage Manager: Corey Covell
Photo by: Richard Brusky