For their final show of the 2018-2019 season, Dominion Stage
is closing with a vintage 1970s play by James Kirkwood, Jr. Interestingly
enough, the play came first, then the novel (both written by Kirkwood) and
finally it became a film around 2002. It opened on Broadway in April 1975 and
earned a Drama Desk Award nomination.
‘P.S. Your Cat Is Dead!’ is a. . . a reminder that . . . we really do need all the friends we can get. Even black cats named Bobby Seale, and a burglar named Vito.
The premise is funny. Jimmy Zoole just can’t catch a break—he’s a struggling actor stuck in two not-so-stable gigs (he loses both on one day), his personal life is falling apart (the girlfriend is leaving; his aunt makes him dance attendance upon her every Sunday by promising to die soon and leave him money), he’s been robbed twice (and the second time, the burglar took his half-done manuscript), and his cat just died at the vet’s. It’s New Year’s Eve, he’s not particularly stable, and something’s going to snap.
Dropping into this sadsack of a life, literally, is Vito Antonucci, a young man who does whatever he must to survive, for robbery number three. Although given the extremely slim pickings in Jimmy’s flat, one does wonder why Vito has come back a third time. But for whatever reason, Vito has come back and gets stuck (he’s not a very good burglar) in the closet and then under the bed, listening to Kate (the soon to be ex-girlfriend) pack, and then have it out with Jimmy.
Kate leaves, and Jimmy is raging when Vito tries unsuccessfully to slip out of the apartment. Somehow, 38-year-old Jimmy successfully overcomes 26-year-old fit Vito and ties him up and straps him to the kitchen sink. Granted, Jimmy is very motivated by this point and it’s not as if he has much to lose.
Having strapped a delectable young man to his sink seems to have loosened up Jimmy. Vito is gay and that makes Jimmy uncomfortable at first, but it also uncorks some intense feelings. When late in the second act Kate and her new boyfriend come back to the apartment to check on Jimmy, these two losers at life bond together and sort of set the stage for perhaps a future.
The fourth character is wealthy businessman Fred Gable, and other than being a walking marker of boyfriend success for Kate, supposedly a successful photographer, it’s never entirely clear why he is in the play at all.
As Vito, Patrick Newhart, in his Dominion Stage debut has some genuinely funny moments. He has the timing and physical adroitness for physical comedy. As Vito, he has a grin that’s obviously gotten him out of trouble before. When he plants a kiss on Jimmy’s cheek, you realize how much he’s really running things now. While tied up half-naked on a sink.
The second act moves along much more briskly and less preciously than the first, and it’s also the act that has the best lines and the most outrageous plotting. There’s some real poignancy when Jimmy lets Vito go and Vito doesn’t actually leave. He climbs back in a window—just like a stray cat named Bobby Seale once stole into Jimmy’s heart.
The script is heavy with symbolism, and a little clunky, but it has been 44 years or so since it was written; what was more of a shock in 1970 is either much more accepted now or quaint. However, the cast—Adam Downs as Jimmy Zoole, Lori Brooks as Kate, and Charles Boone as Fred Gable—jump right into the spirit of the what’s left to lose manic mayhem.
Sam Jensen (set design) pulls together a set that encapsulates the shabby, ultra-cramped quarters of a tiny New York apartment (on the other hand—it did have two closets) on the unfashionable lower West Side in the 1970s. Jennifer Lyman did beautiful work on the lighting design—the subtle changes showed time passing and helped set the mood from frenetic to pensive. The show was directed by Michael Page.
“P.S. Your Cat Is Dead!” is a nostalgic revisiting of the 1970s and all that implies in terms of the thoughtless marginalization of certain groups. It’s also a reminder that for anyone it can be a quick tumble downward economically and socially, so we really do need all the friends we can get. Even black cats named Bobby Seale, and a burglar named Vito.
Advisory: Some male nudity; gunshots; adult language and topics.
Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.
“P.S. Your Cat Is Dead!” runs from May 3 – 18, 2019 at Dominion Stage, produced at Gunston Theatre Two, Arlington, VA. For more information, please click here.