Existential Kitty

Mad Cat delves a little deeper when it explores a self-centered writer/director about town

Mad Cat scripts are highly dialogue-driven. What you hear is what you get, and what you hear is almost always fast-paced, agile, witty, 20- to 30-something speak. While the first and last scenes are largely silent and much more surreal and symbolic (the final scene has a crucial development that is subtly played out), the rest of the play is full-throttle debate, dialogue, discussion, and diatribe. This is a demanding script with numerous quick scene changes. Because the Mad Cat cast is so nimble and cohesive, the effect is riveting. They are a dynamic troupe -- each character is consistently on point, dynamic, and compelling.

Throughout the play, Azurdia appears as Monty's shadow. She is at times an alter ego, and in the program notes, she is aptly entitled "Muse." As she has cowritten three works for Mad Cat with Tei, this is a role that pushes their ongoing collaboration to new heights. Azurdia skillfully plays with and against Monty's whims, moods, fears, anxieties, and tantrums. Although always on his side, the Muse often appears wiser and stronger. Azurdia's work on-stage is consistently genuine and often very comical, and in Cope, she reveals an impressive capacity for human expression through her face, hands, and movement. This role never feels too mimelike, clever, or gratuitous. Without saying a word (save a small speaking bit at the end), Azurdia's stage presence is fluid, vibrant, and revelatory. There's something rightfully poetic and surreal about her presence (a little of Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire without appearing to be a knockoff), and dramaturgically speaking, this role also adds a considerable amount of depth to Monty's character.

By now, Travis Neff's lighting and set design and Nathan Rausch's sound design are trademarks of any Mad Cat production, and Cope is no exception. The rapid-fire scene and set changes are coherent and cohesive. Karelle Levy's costume design accentuates the trendy jet-set style of the characters. The use of video is the only element of the production that doesn't work 100 percent. Like the music, the video often plays an important role in the dramatic development of the play, especially at the beginning and end, but at times (i.e., the hotel and runway scenes), it resorts to being a mere backdrop, coming off as unnecessary and contrived.

Ivonne Azurdia: never too mime-like, never too clever
Ivonne Azurdia: never too mime-like, never too clever

It's hard to ignore that Cope is written and directed by and stars Paul Tei. Add to this the play's dramatic premise and the fact that Tei himself is quite the hip charismatic theater guy about town and you could have a recipe for failure. What makes Cope a success is that it hides none of these facts. It actually plunges headlong into such ironies. Cope manages to transcend the unholy trinity of director, actor, and writer and takes audiences on a worthwhile and often riotous journey through the world of theater.

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