CATS CAN SEE THE DEVIL
nytheatre.com review by Jeff Lewonczyk
Tom X. Chao’s Cats Can See the Devil is, in part, a Fringe
show about Fringe shows. It starts out as a parody of/homage to
the cheaply thrown-together, seat-of-the-pants spectacles that
any FringeNYC aficionado has seen in abundance: in this case, a
snarky puppet show starring abstract geometric shapes on sticks,
which eventually expands its scope to include such immortal
characters as Mr. Pile of Unread Magazines (Mostly Old New
Yorkers) and Mr. Contents of My Pockets.
August 15, 2003
Soon there is the obligatory gratuitous nudity, and, when the actress in question rebels, Chao—who has been performing voice-over duties in his smooth, cheesy baritone—has a loud, violent breakdown, after which he disappears. The remaining actresses seize the dead stage time as an opportunity to further their own careers with supposedly self-written monologues, stand-up comedy, and a movement piece entitled "Freakout… Under the Apple Tree." When Chao returns, they take him to task for being a lascivious geek, an accusation against which he has precious little defense.
The narrative takes several more twists and turns before the show is through. The beauty of the piece is that Chao and director John Harlacher never let anything stick around too long—just when the audience thinks they know what’s happening the show hitches up its skirt and scrambles somewhere completely different. Yet it retains a certain consistency, connected through all its permutations by the self-loathing nerdiness of Chao’s writing and his stage persona—which are both, thank God, awfully damn funny. It is the account of a self-absorbed loser who knows the full measure of his self-absorption, and this awareness liberates the show to span great comedic heights.
It also helps that he has a crack supporting cast of young comediennes whose collective pulchritude is no accident, I can assure you. Employing a slew of verisimilitude-boosting references to the downtown scene and its denizens, the show is concerned with what it’s like to exist on the kamikaze lunatic periphery of theatre, where it’s difficult to make anyone care about your petty, insignificant work and pettier, even more insignificant ego. It is the show’s genius that in the end, against your better judgment, we do.