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Saturday 2 March 2019

Griffin Theatre Company's Dead Cat Bounce, dissected by me

Reading the program for Dead Cat Bounce, one will realise there's a whole lot going on. Buzzwords like 'love', 'addiction', 'human behaviour', and 'shame' take their place alongside the 'Grieve, or have another drink' quote you would've seen on billboards around the city. It seems like there's too much for a 95-minute play to handle. In some ways, you're wrong - the selected themes fit around one another quite well, each able to stand on their own yet also work together in their synergistic nature. In a practical sense, though, you're quite right - the need to focus on so many different ideas makes the play drag on, making your emotional investment rise and fall like the financial situation the play derives its name from. 

It is the emotions stockbrokers have for a dead cat bounce (if they have any emotion at all for that matter) that Dead Cat Bounce addresses; the false hope that their money isn't wasted, the torture experienced when their money is gone, and the subsequent grieving when their family leaves them. Gabe (Josh Quong Tart), a writer struggling to be an adult and an adult struggling to be a writer, has just completed the latest manuscript for yet another rehash of his 30-year-old bestseller, this time featuring a half-man-half-cat (which, for any furry or lonely middle-aged woman, would probably be quite the dreamboat). His girlfriend Matilda (Kate Cheel), 20 years his junior but years ahead of him in adulthood, tends to his every need like a polite maid that you can also have sex with. She acts as a foil to Angela (Lucia Mastrantone), Gabe’s ex and potential publisher of his furry fanfiction, whilst her partner Tony (Johnny Nasser) foils Gabe as a rational, functional adult. Beginning with Matilda begging Gabe for the manuscript of his new book, the play soon delves into Gabe’s past, unplanned pregnancies, alcoholism, and Tony’s feelings for the pet cat he and Angela love to hate (which I, as a proud dog owner, fully align with).

Like a dead cat bounce is a see-saw experience, so too is the show. Tart presents Gabe as a character that, for the most part, can't quite seem to make his mind up on what he sees of himself; he gives us a complex character that, whilst an asshole, we can’t help but feel sorry for. When applied to Mary Rachel Brown's script, this works when he is drunk or drinking but doesn't when he tries to make a joke. Many of Tart's comedic lines fell flat not because of him, but because it was hard to reconcile his two sides. Cheel and Mastrantone, as foils for one another, give similarly mixed performances; Cheel begins the play as a typical millennial character, but the perceptiveness that gave her the show a refreshing sense of youth is lost when she falls into the background, stuck with announcing her pregnancy, talking about announcing her pregnancy, or acting like a pregnant woman who likes telling people she's pregnant for much of the play's latter half. Mastrantone's initial difficulty with the sudden emotional shifts Angela experiences in her first 5 minutes of the play make way for a performance more genuine than Tart's, really grabbing our attention with a believability that he tried to but never really muster. Out of the quartet she has the strongest control over her more humorous dialogue, able to keep us laughing as and when Brown's script wants us to. However, Nasser plays a shamefully small role, not really doing much after the play's third scene; his attention to Tony's rational nature gave him a welcome stage presence amidst the show's chaotic thematic elements, though constant verbal references to his debilitating physical state by other characters combined with a drawn-out final scene featuring him and Mastrantone (purely to communicate a metaphor of change we've already basically seen with Gabe and fatherhood) make our final thoughts on him rather mixed.

Yet, the work of the crew deserves a mention. Director Mitchell Butel utilises the numerous exits of the SBW Stables Theatre well, and a scene featuring the reading of Gabe's unpublished manuscript featuring the entire cast was creative, well-paced, and strongly executed. Sound Designer Nate Edmondson has an unusually pumping soundtrack for a play like this, making transition points ironically welcome with an absolutely banging library (which, if I could get a copy of, would be much appreciated). Yet, Alexander Berlage’s lighting design should be held in the highest regard – in a lighting rig far more complicated than any I've worked on, his use of snaps, fades, colour, and timing puts the 'lights' in 'lights, camera, action'.

Ultimately, Dead Cat Bounce's shortcoming is its diversity. There's so much to do, and such little time to do it in, it's hard for all of the cast to have an equal say - ironically making a short performance feel longer than it actually is. Unless you're a lighting geek like me, this stock may be a bit too risky for your investment portfolio.


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