Moscow Cats Theatre
nytheatre.com review by Jeffrey Lewonczyk
February 10, 2006
Cats can be any number of things—lap-warmers, exterminators, ancient Egyptian religious symbols, inscrutable enigmas, allergy fodder—but they’re not often accused of being circus animals. Unlike their more dependable canine counterparts, cats are far from tractable, which means that anyone trying to teach one to do tricks is either a masochist or someone with a lot of time on his hands.
So what can one surmise about Moscow Cats Theatre, a circus which has trained not one cat, but a legion of twenty, and then leaped over continents and oceans in order to share the fruits of their labor? It obviously takes a rare brand of pluck to undertake such a thing, and for that I offer a big tip of the hat. But since I’m not willing to advocate spending the exorbitant ticket fee to experience this yourself, I’ll let you in a sad secret: aside from the cats, the circus isn’t all that great.
Fans of camp will find throughout the evening some jewels to admire—such as the bizarre synthesized underscoring and the inexplicable aliens with green crocheted heads that run in and out from time to time, occasionally wearing giant rubber hands—and younger children could be heard trilling with delight throughout. But too often ringleader Yuri Kuklachev wanders off into extended spells of sub-Ringling buffoonery that take the breath out of the evening; he’s amiable enough, with a knobby face tailor-made for clowning, but his routines just aren’t inspired enough to carry the evening. The brief appearances of a handful of fellow humans (and even—gasp!—a couple of dogs) likewise can’t compete with the rare thrill of seeing nearly two dozen cats running back and forth across the full length of a stage, as they do at the show’s beginning. Before the show is over, you wish it was half as long.
But for lovers of kitties (like me), the half-hour or so of feline-focused material within the show’s 75-minute running time is almost enough to win you over. For the most part, they don’t do anything you can’t imagine a cat doing—they climb, they jump, they push things around—but they do it on a larger-than-usual scale, not to mention repeatedly and on cue. Whether scrambling to the top of and jumping off a pole that reaches almost to the Lamb’s Theater ceiling, balancing sturdily on two front paws, or walking a tightrope high above the stage, you find yourself consistently surprised that these creatures would submit to such activities.
The truth is, even with all the company’s collected experience, about a third of the time the cats would obviously still rather go their own way, and have to be nudged by Kuklachev into keeping on task. I actually found this recalcitrance nearly as delightful as their ability—it was certainly an honest response to the absurdity of the situation. Perhaps my favorite recurring joke involves one white-and-yellow kitty in particular who claws and meows contemptuously at Kuklachev whenever he tries to touch it after a trick. It is a cat being a cat, superlatively—in its stageworthiness a perfect presentation of the paradox of the evening.