Gender-bending ‘Cat’ sendup has comic claws
Title notwithstanding, “Pussy on the House’’ — a revival of the Gold Dust Orphans’ 2004 Elliot Norton Award-winning parody of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’’ at the gay club Machine — is somewhat on the subdued side for this gender-bending troupe, famed for its reliably outré antics. Here, on the whole, the Orphans play it “straight’’ — to even funnier effect, for playwright and company leader Ryan Landry, true to form, has taken hilarious liberties with the source material.
Brick, for example (ruggedly handsome Chris Loftus, who’s often assigned the hunk roles), is mourning not the suicide of a perhaps too-close football friend but the tragic demise on his cohost on a kiddie show, whose identity is coyly obscured in order to build up to a Big Reveal. A classic case of arrested development, Brick has holed up in a treehouse emblazoned with the warning “NO GURLS ALLOW’D.’’ There, accessible only via rope swing, he spends his days chugging Jack Daniels, huffing glue (Elmer’s), and evading the overtures of his hot-to-trot wife, Maggie, a.k.a. the Cat.
Penny Champayne (the stage name of Scott Martino, who doubles as brilliant costume designer) seems to have absorbed not just the outer trappings but every emotional trope employed by the movie goddesses of the silver screen: the million-mile stare, the tragic double-take, the tremolo of incipient tears. She (despite the tattoos and toned physique, you never think of Champayne in any other terms) gives a bravura performance conveying Maggie’s ever-amping frustration — which, is not just sexual (Brick refuses to get busy) but financial.
Big Mamma (a fearsomely butch Larry Coen, sporting a pink pantsuit and a pompadour like whipped mayonnaise) is facing a potentially terminal disease, and so Maggie is under a deadline. Unless she can come up with an alternate heir, the whole of Big Mamma’s empire — “the biggest polyester plantation the South has ever seen’’ — will go to her biological son, Elvis impersonator Gooper (Delta Miles), his frightful wife, Mae (Olive Another), and their five unseen but nonetheless vocal offspring, “Dixie, Trixie, Spot, Stridex, and Chlamydia Jean.’’ Screechy Mae has another “no-neck monster’’ on the way, which gives Martino the opportunity to deck her out in a clownish ’50s-style maternity dress and also gives Mae ample occasion to roll about on her back like an upturned beetle.
Brick doesn’t stand to inherit because he’s the child of Big Mamma’s life partner, Aunt Sukie (Landry, playing fluttery-feminine instead of his more typical hags and harridans — a category in which he’s a proven master).
Sukie is one of those stand-by-your-man — or rather, woman — kind of gals, and it’s a treat to see Landry, got up like a proper Southern dowager positively dripping with jewels, go all goopy and lovestruck. Sukie’s back story alludes to less-privileged origins: indeed, her cliché-enhanced account of how Big Mamma plucked her out of a Piggly Wiggly is a highlight of the play.
Can Sukie turn Big Mamma’s constant put-downs into endearments? Can Big Mamma save Brick from his downward slide? Will Maggie get the consummation she so fervently desires? Or will Gooper and Mae succeed in their machinations, which involve a hypodermic and a sheaf of legal documents?
When Landry first devised this play, Massachusetts hovered on the verge of instituting same-sex marriage (Landry and Martino made their union official in 2008). Elsewhere in the country, households not fitting a narrow definition of marriage must come up with their own coping mechanisms. “Pussy on the House’’ might seem a lighthearted bagatelle, but it’s a resonant — and immensely enjoyable — reminder of how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve yet to go.
Sandy MacDonald can be reached at email@example.com.