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Cat on a Streetcar Named Iguana
Adobe Theater

Also see Rob's review of A Christmas Story

Cat on a Streetcar Named Iguana
Cast
2011 was the year of Tennessee Williams in Albuquerque theater. To celebrate the centennial of his birth, most of the theaters in town did a Williams play, or a show about Williams or inspired by Williams. But who would have anticipated that the year would go out with two musicals that are based on Williams material? Vessels, by Kevin R. Elder and Tricklock Company, and Cat on a Streetcar Named Iguana, by Phil Bock, are both original works, Albuquerque born and bred. They could hardly be more different from one another, but both are evidence of the pervasive influence of Williams on the American theater. And what could be a better tribute to Tennessee than to have new work created because of his writing?

As the title makes plain, this Cat is a comedic amalgamation of several of the canonical Williams plays. It's mostly a take-off of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but characters somehow manage to drop into Big Daddy's house from A Streetcar Named Desire and The Night of the Iguana. Almost all of them are transformed: Blanche du Bois from Streetcar, for example, melds with Hannah Jelkes from Iguana to become Branch do Boys, with her old poet grandfather in tow but still incorrigibly interested in young men. Reverend Shannon from Iguana is Reverend Shamrock here, but he is also Tom from The Glass Menagerie and Tennessee (real name Tom) himself. Stanley and Brick combine to give us Stick. And so on.

Then there are allusions to the titles of other Williams plays. The ones I picked up on were Summer and Smoke, Suddenly Last Summer, Camino Real, The Rose Tattoo, and even Period of Adjustment. I'm sure there were others I missed. So this raises the question: If you're not a theater person, if you don't get all these in-jokes, if "blow out your candles" and "blue roses" mean nothing to you, will you still enjoy this show?

I think the answer is Yes. It's not just a clever end-of-semester skit written by the grad students of some English department. There's more to it. It's a musical, and the songs are what give this Cat its joie de vivre. A play can be a living thing, or it can be dead on arrival. This one lives and breathes, and sings. The songs have clever and sometimes heartfelt lyrics, and I would say that they are as melodic as most of what's new on Broadway now—or more so.

The accompaniment is by Phil Bock playing an electric keyboard, and that's all. And, although this might seem like a budgetary move, it's really perfect because you can understand every word that is being sung. Everyone in the cast does a creditable job of acting and singing, and I congratulate them all, but there are a few standouts: Jessica Record, who has a wonderful musical theater future; and Jeannie Westwood, who has had a wonderful musical theater past and will have, I hope, a lengthy future as well. I welcome Jason Adam Cox to Albuquerque, and encourage him to "stick" around for a while.

The high point for me was Arthur Alpert's performance of the old poet's song about "simple human kindness," the words he needs to complete his years-in-gestation final poem. Who would have expected true pathos from this show? Yet there it is. I hope Tennessee is watching from wherever he is.

Even though there is a cast of ten, in some sense this is a one-man show: Phil Bock is responsible for the book, lyrics and music. Not many people can pull that off, but Phil does. His vision has been very capably brought to life by Barbara Bock, who directed and designed the show. Albuquerque owes a debt of gratitude to the Bocks for their many years of contributions to our theater scene. They first produced their Cat in the year 2000. I'm very glad they were able to revive it in 2011 to cap off the year of tribute to one of our greatest playwrights. And I hope it finds a life outside of Albuquerque. It deserves it.

Cat on a Streetcar Named Desire runs through December 18, 2011, at the Adobe Theater, 9813 4th Street NW, Albuquerque. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets $15, available at adobetheater.org or 505-898-9222.


Photo: Taunya Crilly

--Dean Yannias



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