Tennessee Williams has always had a streak of the unreal and fantastical in his work; even in his most famous realistic work, such as The Glass Menagerie, symbols and allegory abound. With his Now the Cats With Jewelled Claws; written in the 60s, revised in the 80s, not performed until this century; he abandons realism altogether in favor of a theatrically stylized dreamscape. Set in a restaurant in New York City during the post-Christmas shopping rush, Madge (Mink Stole) and Bea (Regina Bartkoff) are society ladies who meet for lunch. Their catty banter is amusing, and they clearly hold themselves high above the restaurant's Manager (an outrageous Everett Quinton), a painted and toupéed older gentleman, and the Waitress (Erin Markey) who appears and disappears to a harp arpeggio, and who has a black eye and a bun in the oven. Two Young Men in pink leather jackets (Max Steele and Joseph Keckler) enter and catch the attention of the Manager. Meanwhile, a Hunchbacked man (Charlie Schick) periodically runs by holding up ominous signs.
The cast is uneven- Mink Stole is a perfect delight as Madge, her performance seems effortless. Bartikoff attacks the more feral elements of her character with gusto but doesn't seem to have the verbal chops to handle the elevated language. Quinton is, by turns, frightening and hilarious. Markey is a standout with her exquisitely apathetic deadpan delivery. The Young Men are quite pretty twinks, though seem to have been cast more for their singing and dancing skills than for their acting.
The play is entertaining, though at times seems at times willfully confusing, with musical numbers (both song and dance) seeming to come randomly, and often gets lost in its own ideas; once the Young Men enter, Madge and Bea are nearly forgotten. The playing style (directed by Jonathan Warman) is fully presentational, with the cast members hardly looking at each other, playing out to the house. I really have no idea what the play is about or what it's attempting to say. There are suggestions of Christlike sacrifice in the Young Men, and a strange nihilistic message for homosexuals, all of which are ignored by the matrons, though what it all adds up to...? Wikipedia's entry on the play only says that it's "Set in the anteroom of Hell", which is probably as appropriate an interpretation as any. On the whole, it's an entertaining but perplexing 55 minutes.
Now the Cats With Jewelled Claws plays Thursday through Saturday at 10pm, with a Sunday performance at 5:30pm, at The Club at La MaMa, 74A East Fourth Street at Second Avenue. General admission tickets are $18; student/senior tickets are $13. For tickets and information, visit lamama.org or phone 212-475-7710.