Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Pussy on the House"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


by Ryan Landry
directed by James P. Byrne

Brick … Chris Loftus
Maggie … Penny Champagne
Mae … Olive Another
Sukey … Ryan Landry
Gooper … James P. Byrne
Big Mamma … Larry Coen
Clamidia; Driver; Polly; Doc; Bartender … The Marsian
Preacher … Keith Orr

On the evening I attended PUSSY ON THE HOUSE, Ryan Landry’s version of Tennessee Williams’ CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, there were a number of theatre critics in the audience --- a Gold Dust Orphan first! I could not read their thoughts, of course, but the rest of the audience, myself included, had a grand old time with Mr. Ryan’s latest offering which shows him, director James P. Byrne and their Orphans ever evolving in their artistry. THE BAD SEED hinted at their serious side; now with that ripe character clown Larry Coen entering the ring again (he was the impressive Joseph in WHO'S AFRAID OF THE VIRGIN MARY?), PUSSY ON THE HOUSE steers away from trashy farce and into solid dramatic territory. It is still riotously funny but Mr. Landry, inspired by Mr. Coen’s presence, now proves that a man in drag can be as dignified, insightful and relevant as any woman in a pair of pants. (Shakespeare, anyone?)

Mr. Landry retains CAT’s original plotlines --- Brick, his leg in a cast, won’t sleep with his wife Maggie the Cat because he blames her for the death of his close (maybe, too close) buddy Skipper; meanwhile, Brick’s brother and sister-in-law plot to take away the family plantation from the tyrannical Big Daddy who is dying of cancer and wants Brick and Maggie to produce a rightful heir --- and he does a little gender bending: Big Daddy and Big Mama now become a long-term lesbian couple, Big Mamma and Sukey; Big Mamma has raised Brick (Sukey’s son) as her own, favoring him over Gooper, her own biological offspring. Maggie still lusts after Brick who now grieves over a hilarious spin on the deceased Skipper. The play’s action takes place on Big Daddy’s roof and in Brick’s tree house, and it all works --- in fact, Mr. Landry and his Orphans have made Mr. Williams’ well-worn tale seem new and daring again and certainly as steamy (stick around for Brick and Maggie’s final bedroom encounter). As with CAT, PUSSY’s centerpiece is Big Mamma getting to the bottom of Brick’s drinking and Maggie’s barrenness and Mr. Coen contributes a sublimely tough-skinned but soft-hearted bulldog; if Chris Loftus continues to play tough little punks, he is well placed in his current setting. Mr. Landry even manages to drop a little mind-bomb: Brick may be ashamed of having been raised by two women instead of a traditional father-mother household causing Big Mamma, eyes shining with tears, to utter, “I guess this old dyke’s love wasn’t good enough” --- it is a beautiful, heartbreaking moment emerging from yet another closet.

As fine as they are, Messrs. Coen and Loftus do not overshadow three equally fine performances --- yes, performances: ever since she stole THE BAD SEED with her moving alcoholic, I have viewed Penny Champagne as a serious actress, free of camp, and her Maggie is another feather in her cap --- her repertoire may be limited to playing ladylike broads but she has become the Orphan’s bedrock, adding emotional weight to the zaniness. One of the many delights of Orphan productions is when a supporting player steps into a major role and gets his/her moment to shine: here, the shiner is Olive Another as Mae the gossipy sister-woman. Ms. Another had her wee moments in the last few shows (her cries of “You’re evil! EVIL!” in THE GULLS remain indelible); now resembling Dame Joan Sutherland after swallowing a beach ball, Ms. Another is totally convincing as one of those so-called “banana belles” of the South yet is never mean-spirited in execution --- may Mr. Landry continue to let her shine. Mr. Landry himself rounds out the trio as Sukey: like Ms. Another, his characterization is broad as a cartoon but this time the wing-tip glasses, the fluttery gestures, the mile-high wig are shrewd observations on life, not movies. It is Mr. Landry’s most accomplished turn thus far, surpassing his unforgettable Camille, and he and Mr. Coen blend as chunky peanut butter does with marshmallow fluff. They’re a magnificent couple, regardless of gender.

There are no special Orphan effects to speak of but Mr. Landry is inspired in his choice of thundering soundtrack music which adds a rich layer of menace and poignancy to the purple rants and raves. He has raised his own standards with PUSSY ON THE HOUSE and I hope those critics who attended will return --- I have a feeling they ain’t seen nothing, yet.

"Pussy on the House" (25 March-24 April)
Machine/The Ramrod Center for the Performing Arts, 1254 Boylston Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 265-6222

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide