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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Cat’s Cradle, A New Adaptation by Sean Foer and Grover Holloway

Or: ....but Ice is Nice and will Suffice

I regret to tell you dear reader that everything you will see, if you happen to brave the winter storms and crowd into Shanley hall, will be foma: shameless lies. At least it is if we are to take the word of Bokonon (Omar Jimenzez): renegade prophet, amateur songwriter and our guide to this bleak and bitter world. Fortunately for us it’s all good, well-told foma that should make you cringe, give you pause and, most importantly, make you laugh long and hard.

Based on the novel by practical jokester Kurt Vonnegut, the story follows the hapless Jonah (Chris Anselmo) a writer trying to hunt down the history of Dr. Felix Hoenikker, the most elusive developer of the atomic bomb, through the memories of his three grown up children Franklin (Nick Fistanic), Angela (Greer DuBois) and Newt (Maya Siu). While trying to compile his book, and with frequent philosophical interruptions by the specter of Bokonon, Jonah uncovers the trace elements of Dr. Hoenikker’s last project, Ice Nine, a substance which could plunge the planet into eternal winter and snuff out all life on earth. The hunt for the last surviving canisters of Ice 9 leads Jonah, along with his unwanted companions Lowe and Hazel Crosby (Alex Glossman and Ali Shields), to the island nation of San Lorenzo, its dying dictator “Papa” Monzano (Andre Sguerra), and his daughter Mona (Aissa Guerra), the most beautiful woman in the world.

Holloway and Foer have done an admirable job of herding their source text into some semblance of a coherent story and pulling the ribbon of Bokonanism, so central to the plot, through the whole of it. There are some points where the audience member may become confused at where or when an exchange is happening or observe a minor traffic jam in setting up a scene, but these are errors easily forgivable when you consider how carefully they weigh and package the moments of humor (such as Jonah juggling cigaret, note pad and pencil and the advances of an amorous secretary or Bokonan’s elaborate puns or the Hoenikker’s frequent need to knock back a stiff drink or two or six). If an actor blunders into a stage piece, or if you lose the thread of a conversation resist the urge to throw up your hands and cry “No d*mn Cat! No d*mn Cradle!” You’ll find they’ll cheerfully work the collision into their studied air of confusion, and the thread of where what and how will emerge again. What passes before you, though sometimes confusing, is never dull.

For those of you with a strong aesthetic sense this production is the must see item this weekend. Set designer Elli Williamson has outdone herself with a jagged jungle of enormous ice crystals, aching blue and haughty white, seeming to jut forth and pull in from their painted confines. The effect is so pressing that the heat of the lights and your fellow viewers is sapped straight away and the polar vortex outside seems warm and welcoming by comparison. Similarly, sound designer Gus Schlanbusch has gone out of his way to compose effects both deceptively simple (such as the subliminal thrum of an airline cabin) and impossible to stage (the sound of every cell in a human body freezing solid, for starters).

Anselmo strives for straight-man-i-ness in this chaotic world of colorful characters. An ordinary man in an extraordinary situation he makes sure Jonah’s Shlimazel nature all ways trips him either when trying to flirt or pull his weight before people. He could be a touch more grounded in his increasing points of rage or despair rather than physically waffling back and forth but handles his confusion, and wryness with the best of them. Jimenzez offers the frenetic energy of Bokonans madness and the tongue-in-cheek solemnity of his reason with good measurement. He particularly comes into his element in leading the audience in Bokonanist sing-a-longs and visibly glows if you dare to sing or even ‘la‘ along. Glossman and Sheilds are visibly having a whale of a time engaging in poor pronunciation, rabid quirks and generally showing off the worst America has to offer, topped by a pencil mustache and bouffant (respectively). Other noteworthy performances are DuBois’s only sane (or if you trust Bokonan) only mad woman of the cast as she struggles to keep a stiff upper lip as the world goes to pieces, Sguerra’s punctuated rumbles as Papa pushes reality to suit his own visions (“No. Communists. Here.”) and Guerra’s moon-eyed Mona, who leaves you guessing to the last if the characters etherial quality comes from “Inner-peace or inner-cold-fish”.

If you are looking for a good dark comedy in these dark days, you will enjoy this show. If you are looking for something to puzzle your puzzler about the nature of truth and other highfalooten things, you will enjoy this show. If you are looking for a good venue to dump your significant other on valentines day weekend, you will find this show very valuable. Though not always as polished or streamlined as it wants to be Cat’s Cradle fulfills its Karass (read: unlikely fellowship of companions) mission to bring this gristly story to life and gloss it over with the glaze of humor its creator would have most certainly enjoyed.

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