“P.S. Your Cat Is Dead,” the James Kirkwood play that opened at the Flagler Playhouse Friday, lasts 92 minutes. I spent about 60 of those laughing, probably too loudly for a theater in an ex-church, a higher mum-to-mirth ratio than for most things you’ll see on stage or on screen these days. I wasn’t alone. It sounded as if the nearly full house of an audience demographically suited for any church in town was having as much fun despite a brand of Manhattan humor as refreshingly coarse and jiggly as Bruce Popielarski’s ass, which hangs bare and bald for much of the play from the unlikely perch of a kitchen counter. His cat-burglar of a character, the sexually ambidextrous and oddly cuddly Vito, is tied up there by and for the vengeful pleasures of Jimmy Zoole (Rob Long), whose balls finally come out to play after 38 years of hibernation. And play they do: on words, on roles, on Jimmy’s own misery of an actor’s career, and of course at the expense of Vito’s gibbous buns, which turn out to be the metaphorical hump Jimmy needs to conquer on top of the proverbial butt of many jokes. Vito happily, sweetly obliges, as these two losers rediscover in each other the gaiety of trying not to fail. And yes, the pun is intentional.
- “P.S. Your Cat Is Dead,” which opened June 3, is scheduled for is scheduled for six shows: June 3, 4, 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m., and June 5 and 12 at 2 p.m. The Flagler Playhouse is located at 301 East Moody Blvd. in Bunnell. Call 586-0773 for more details or visit the Playhouse website.
All this on a live stage in Bunnell? Now you know why “P.S.” Director Bruce Heighley takes a few moments before the play to remind the audience that this is an “adult comedy”—a caution made unfortunately necessary by the oppressive dominion of “family entertainment” in our infantile culture, where 8-year-old sensibilities hold most of that entertainment hostage. The slightest fuck in print, prime time or community stage and you won’t hear the end of it from our swarming versions of Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.
We’ve been lucky theme-wise this year in Flagler County, particularly on the stage of the Playhouse (with “Waiting in the Wings” and “The Me Nobody Knows”), but also with productions of “For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide” and even the student production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which fought a months-long battle to get over that bogus scare over nigger’s usage. There’s at least been some desire to go past the same old repertoire of pile-on blandness (though an initial glance at next year’s line-up at the Playhouse suggests a retreat in just that direction).
- “The Me Nobody Knows” at Flagler Playhouse: Vivid, Raw and Joyful Ghetto Truths
- “Waiting in the Wings” at the Flagler Playhouse: Old Age in Wit and Drink
- You Can’t Stop the Beat: Flagler Playhouse’s “Hairspray” Sells Out Extended Run
- From Raves to Shock: Flagler Playhouse’s Artistic Director and President Both Resign
Needless to say, “P.S. Your Cat Is Dead,” whose very first spoken words are “Holy shit,” does not fit the standard-issue vise of family entertainment, though it is deliciously appropriate, and recommended, for anyone 13 and over not particularly fond of the underside of rocks as permanent homes. That makes the play good for the overwhelming totality of families, particularly those with doctrinaire hang-ups about sexual orientation. So let Heighley’s caution double up for this write-up: it’s vaguely PG-13, and it’s very fond of the two loose-mouthed losers who occupy the stage for most of those 92 minutes.
Long’s Jimmy Zoole is an actor who’s never made it past bit parts, some of them as demeaning as a German shepherd’s understudy. His bright-yellow apartment is as brash as he gets. His imagination is a frame on the wall. His to-do list is cat food and eggs. His entertainment is TV and a dart-board. (The set design is Heighley’s.) He’s been burglarized twice, losing the novel he’s worked on for most of a year in one of the heists. He’s lost his spot on a soap opera despite a contract (“It’s something we like to call the fuck-you clause,” he tells his ex). And of course his cat just died. His girlfriend Kate, “Miss strength and gut” (Kaylee Rotunno, last seen on the Playhouse stage wordlessly beguiling audiences with her legs in “The Me Nobody Knows”), is a fashion photographer tiring of Jimmy’s dead ends. She’s been wrapping her legs around more accomplished prospects, among them the dandy Fred Gable (Timothy Akers), who tries hard to be interesting without succeeding. Kate and Fred are both throw-away characters: Kirkwood doesn’t manage to make them more than props book-ending the action, and Rotunno and Akers don’t do much with them, which is fine because the ground chuck in “P.S.” is all in the interaction of Jimmy and Vito.
Vito enters the scene by way of the skylight (to the background strains of something from “The Godfather”), and immediately—in Vito style—proceeds to be the fuck-up he always is: he falls. He hears Jimmy’s life summary in the few minutes he spends hiding under a bed, after almost being caught committing his third burglary of the place, which goes to show what a zero Vito is: hitting the same middling place three times suggests he’s no brighter in the burglary department than he is in other ways (after his mother gave birth to him, “the doctor took one look at me and slapped her”). When Jimmy finds him, they fight as two losers would (one of them brandishes a plunger, the other fires one-liners), until, for the first time in his life, Jimmy acts out of character: he punches the guy’s lights out and ties him up on his kitchen counter.
It happens to be New Year’s Eve. Rather than turn him over to cops, Jimmy decides to enjoy a little sadism at Vito’s expense through the night. (Don’t sweat the dramatic details: there’s plenty that doesn’t make sense in this play, and it’s all beside the point.) There is an undercurrent of cruelty in the first half that can be fairly uncomfortable to watch as Jimmy uses Vito to exorcise a few demons, though Vito is no Linda Blair, and the only crucifix he longs for is the one that’s got him tied up. Both men are too earnest to let devil or seamier sides have the upper hand. And there is that discovery. “You’re not actually queer are you?” Jimmy quizzes Vito. “I finally catch the punk who’s been robbing me and he turns out to be—Tinkerbell?”
The tables turn a few times in this play: it isn’t Vito who’s tied up in knots of course, but Jimmy, who’s also been his own worst burglar, letting circumstances swipe half his life away, though Vito has his own battles, too. Ironically, there’s much less character development than there is a gradual discovery of inner character neither men knew he possessed. Vito and Jimmy are each other’s second chances.
“They must be warm and vulnerable,” Kirkwood (who co-wrote the book for “A Chorus Line,” for which he won a Tony and a Pulitzer in 1976), wrote of the pair. “If the audience does not have a love affair with both of them, the play is damaged. Most of all, it is a play to have fun with and Jimmy and Vito are characters that should touch the audience. I doubt there are a few people walking around who, at one point or another, have not thought of themselves as losers. This should be the common denominator that makes the audience root for them.”
Long and Popielarski do the job, sometimes valiantly so (in the performance I saw, Long takes an unscripted dive from bed to floor that fit perfectly in the story, but must have hurt like hell: he didn’t skip a step), often hilariously so. They do justice to Kirkwood’s street dialogue, which was Mamet before Mamet and with none of Mamet’s despair (or depth, to be fair). They’re obviously having fun together. It’s not just a new year this pair is ringing in but a new life, though even in their old life these two characters, Vito especially, are more than endearing. They ring a bell, as intended, in all of us. And they have us at “holy shit.”