by Marisa Smith
Nora Theatre Company
Central Square Theater
Through August 2
Think of "Saving Kitty" as a comedy version of "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" - except in this case the boyfriend is not of a different race, but is a dreaded Evangelical Christian! Playwright Marisa Smith has crafted a clever and well-researched comedy that examines several layers of questions. Among those questions are: "How do our religious and political views cause us to view others as fundamentalists? What happens within a family when people refuse to listen to one another? Why do we fear those who are different than we are?
Film and TV star Jennifer Coolidge leads an excellent quartet of actors who bring to life Kitty, her Born Again boyfriend, Paul, Kate, the manipulative matriarch, and Huntley, absorbed in his peace-keeping work at the U.N. Kate and Huntley are life-long agnostics or atheists, depending on your theological semantic preferences. Knowing that their daughter, TV news producer, Kitty, will be bringing home her most recent beau, they speculate on what kind of background someone with the name Paul Cook might have. They decide it would be just fine if he were Black. They are not prepared for him to be a Born Again Evangelical Christian who is moving to New York to open a private Bible school for underprivileged kids in the Bronx.They could not have been more scandalized had Kitty brought home Jeffrey Dahmer.
Director Lee Mikeska Gardner leads the four actors with a sure and steady hand. Ms. Coolidge, whom I first came to appreciate when I roared at her outrageous character in "Best In Show," is simultaneously ditsy and Machiavellian in her attempts to thwart the budding romance between Kitty and Paul. Thus the title of the play takes on a double meaning. Paul is attempting to invite Kitty into his Evangelical world to "save" her from her sins, and Kate is trying desperately to "save" Kitty from Paul's love. Paul is played with subdued humor and grace by Lewis D. Wheeler. He plays the role demonstrating the playwright's conviction that Paul is not a one-dimensional fundamentalist, but rather a complex thinking person who happens to have a strong personal faith that is thoroughly tested by his encounters with the members of the Hartley family. In a post-show conversation I had with the playwright, she called Paul the hero of the story. Kitty is portrayed with great energy and skill by Lydia Barnett-Mulligan. She is believable as the flighty yet successful woman who has had three engagements prior to meeting Paul. Rounding out the cast is Alexander Cook as Huntley, too caught up in his U.N. job and dalliance with a young intern to really engage with his wife or daughter. His character is set in the opening scene as he pretends to listen to Kate as he is working on his computer blocking out the world while cocooned within his headset.
The creative team have done an excellent job of creating an upscale Upper East Side New York world. Steven Royal's scenic design is gorgeous and meticulous in detail. Costumes by Barbara Douglass include a surprising appearance of a royal blue burqa. Lighting by John R. Malinowski and Sound by Jennifer Timms are subtle and effective.
The playwright has done an praise worthy job in not demonizing Paul for his faith. She makes it clear that she understands the difference between Fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Tammy Fay Baker and moderate Evangelicals like Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County.This attention to nuance and detail make the play's exploration of faith more credible that many others in which Christian fundamentalists and moderate Evangelicals are lumped together as one large anti-intellectual horde. As a counterpoint to the examination of Christian faith, there is a plot thread that looks at riots in Paris inspired by Fundamentalist Muslims and Sharia courts. The message is clear that Fundamentalism of any stripe in any part of the world can be problematic, and we have a hard time knowing how to deal with it.
Despite the serious sub-strata of the subject matter, this is at its heart a hilarious comedy with clever lines and wonderful comedic timing. Ms. Coolidge's Kate has moments of being seductive, cruel, pathetic and menacing, while pretending to be the perfect hostess. The writer's use of well-placed double entendres adds a soupcon of spice to the proceedings. The audience roared its approval throughout the show, and during the curtain calls.
"Saving Kitty" will run at Central Square Theater through August 2. A limited supply of tickets remain, so act now to "save" your place in the audience for this entertaining play.
Central Square Theater Website