The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
July 8, 2006
Two of the best performances currently on the New York boards are being given by Jeremy Bobb and Miriam Silverman, the stars of Emily Young's new drama, The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie. Their convincing portrait of a longtime couple at an emotional crossroads elevates Babel Theatre Project's production to great heights.
The title characters are a pair of con artists...or, at least, they were. Kat Kat, a young British woman, is still in the game. Willie, her American former partner, has gone straight and gotten a regular job. They also have a tempestuous on-again, off-again romantic relationship. At the start of the play, they're off-again, but don't expect that to last. When Kat Kat shows up on Willie's doorstep homeless, after being in absentia for the past three months, things between them don't stay platonic very long. She also needs his help with a scam she's running. Against his better judgment, he agrees to help her. But, Willie's devoted love for Kat Kat and her determination to keep him at arm's length create a tension that soon sets off emotional fireworks.
Most of the action is confined to Willie's drab apartment, somewhere in an unnamed Northeastern city, accenting the pair's isolation from the rest of the world (and, hence, their desperate—perhaps unhealthy—need for each other). He doesn't seem to have any friends or go anywhere except to work. Kat Kat isn't much better off, despite dragging herself to a weekly support group meeting for foreign expatriates living in the U.S. But, even then, she just lurks in the corner and listens.
Young's decision to keep her protagonists restricted to one place for most of the play is smart. It gives the audience a chance to leisurely soak up little bits of information about Kat Kat and Willie without making the author spell things out for them. Willie is a little bit old school: he still has a turntable and plays LPs. He's also sincere and earnest in his affection for Kat Kat—he even wants to get married. Kat Kat is more progressive than that. She's the snarky, cynical one who smokes and drinks the hard stuff straight from the bottle. There's an implication that theirs has always been an open relationship (at her urging, of course). How can two people this incompatible stand to be around each other? Young is here to tell us that love is blind to such things. Kat Kat and Willie each recognize something in the other that only they understand and respond to. Love, in their case, may not even be a choice, but something compulsory.
But, Young makes sure Kat Kat and Willie keep trying everything in their power to mess things up. Willie keeps telling her he loves her—a declaration that rankles her to no end. Kat Kat keeps micromanaging him in bed: she likes it rough (even though he doesn't), and won't accept it any other way. In the play's best scene, Willie finally gets so frustrated over this, he gets into a physical fight with Kat Kat, chasing her all over the apartment, jumping over furniture and dodging falling bookshelves. Within moments the place is demolished, but Willie has Kat Kat pinned to the bed and finally takes her the way he wants to. This scene is perhaps the finest piece of choreographed mayhem I have ever seen on stage, and the level of emotional investment by both Bobb and Silverman may make the audience a little uncomfortable about watching it. Kudos to the actors, as well as director Heath Cullens and fight director Noah Brody, for making this scene feel like we're spying on something too private to be seen.
Overall, Cullens does splendid work helping Bobb and Silverman forge their fiery bond. The interplay between the two leads is so fluid and accomplished that there are parts of The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie where one would be hard-pressed to catch them "acting" at all. Erik Liberman also delivers an attention-grabbing turn as several of the expatriates in the support group (specifically, a Frenchman, a Puerto Rican guy, and an Italian woman), and Joe Petrilla holds his own as Jonesy, a young Brit from the group who latches on to Kat Kat late in the play.
Young has written a strong and assured work with The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie. By focusing on the specifics of its protagonists it manages to communicate universal truths about men and women and couplehood. But those messages wouldn't be received as clearly if not for the enormous talents of both Bobb and Silverman. Their performances make The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie essential viewing.