You’d imagine that a revival of Tennessee Williams’s wonky one-act Now the Cats With Jewelled Claws starring the respective muses of John Waters and Charles Ludlam could never be all bad, and you’d be right. Mink Stole and Everett Quinton have been survivors of every camp hiccup one could fathom over decades now, and their presence definitely provides a lift to Jonathan Warman’s uneven, burlesque-flavored reimaging of Williams’ 60-minute curiosity case.
Written in 1969, and updated in 1981, Cats features two stock Williams obsessions—moneyed ladies who lunch and lithe male hustlers. They’re joined together in an alt-version of Hell, set in an eatery complete with a black-eyed waitress with a bun in the oven (Erin Markey), and a shifty, tutti-frutti restauranteur (Quinton). The aforementioned rentboys (Max Steele and Joseph Keckler) are pink leather–clad lovers planning their next score. Then there’s the play’s central pair, Madge (Stole) and Bea (Regina Bartkoff), a pair of corkers who bicker about their dubious exploits and what constitutes a proper Chicken Supreme.
This work is mainly for Williams completists, but it’s not without a bit of unsavory charm, and his bon mots—however spare—are still in evidence. (“Crying isn’t favorable to drugstore eyelashes, Bea.”) One just wishes that for all of the ornery sexual content (I was treated to both Quinton shoving a metal phallus in my face and dry-humping a chair directly in front of me), its creators were a little more cohesive in execution. The eyes-ahead, monotone delivery style recalls Richard Maxwell’s downtown bonhomie, yet Warman doesn’t carry it over from portrayal to portrayal. Quinton, for example, vamps in a manner that might seem at home in a more, ahem, straightly played Williams piece. Yet the scrappy tropes of downtown theater that this production embraces occasionally yield a smile. If anything, Cats may represent the only time in your theatergoing life that you get to witness a woman sixty-nining with an oversized stuffed bunny.