The kids are just alright
About halfway through Act One of Stray Cat Theatre's super-fashionable Kate Crackernuts, my middle-aged companion leaned over and whispered in my ear, "It's always nice to see what the youngsters are up to these days."
I'm not sure I agree with him. Because while I found Kate energetically acted and competently directed, I also found myself feeling every minute of my 46 years. I knew that, somewhere in this miasma of techno pop and flashing lights, was a story based on an old Scottish fairy tale about a vengeful mother and a girl with a sheep's head. But I found myself unable to follow — or even find — much of its narrative, shrouded as it was in throbbing disco clips and cranked-up strobe effects. I felt not so much like a member of a theater audience as I did a septuagenarian trapped on the dance floor at an especially debauched rave.
Which is not to say that Kate Crackernuts is bereft of entertainment value. It's just that it manages, in director Gary Minyard's hippie-dippy staging, to obliterate Sheila Callaghan's clever translation with endless attempts to re-create Andy Warhol's Factory. There's no subtlety in Minyard's stylistic choices — lighting, setting, costuming, music — all of them meant to relocate an ancient fairytale to a more contemporary setting. Instead, he's piled on the dissonance and grunge until it buries what might have been an amusing, accessible allegory. For the recently teenaged, all this noise and torn fabric is probably quite fascinating. For the rest of us, it's merely off-putting.
Probably, I'm just tired of hipness getting in the way of good storytelling. There was, after all, some very pleasant acting in this production. I enjoyed John Caswell Jr.'s performance as a demented sheep, and found Amber Gildersleeve, in the title role, quite beguiling. And, as usual, Johanna Carlisle waltzed off with every scene she appeared in — not an easy trick here, given all the noise and confusion. Carlisle, her bosom covered in glitter, her torso swathed in a pleather jumper and colossal platform Mary Janes, was never not magnificent. Shaking her dreadlocked head and bellowing invective, she was the best thing about a show that might have benefited from a few more "best things."
The rest of the cast wore hoodies and ripped jeans and chattered on and on about things that presumably forwarded this slender morals tale, although after awhile, I became lost in all the smart asides and the grown men dressed in baby clothes and gave up caring whether any of these imaginary people lived happily ever after. Kate Crackernuts is theater for hip young things who like plays that more closely resemble music videos or independent films; in the end, I found its endless silly-making mostly just confusing.
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