Mad Cat’s New Production Goes On the Prowl with Pick-up Artists and Pussycats
By Mary Damiano
Paul Tei can’t imagine his life without cats. The actor, director and founder of Mad Cat Theatre Company currently lives with Derby and Julep, feline siblings he calls “precious gifts.” But his first cat, Belly, holds a special place in his heart.
“I would say that it’s because of Belly that Mad Cat was born,” Tei says. “He saw me through some difficult times and brought my folks and I closer through the kind of love he created.”
While Tei’s cat Belly inspired his theatre company, Kristina Wong’s cat Oliver inspired her play, Cat Lady, which is Mad Cat’s current production.
In Cat Lady, Wong plays a herself and Ken Clement plays her cat, Oliver. Cat Lady involves two seemingly unrelated subjects: Wong’s efforts to get Oliver to stop spraying and the sub-culture of pick-up artists, men who turn picking up women into a sport.
“I had no idea how these two ideas were going to manifest in one show, but the way I see it, if they are two points of obsession in the same brain, there would be a way to connect them theatrically,” Wong says.
At the time, Wong was experiencing a great deal of professional success with her solo show, Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a show about suicide and depression among Asian American women, in which she played a character named after herself.
“Believe me,” Wong says, “nothing will screw up your love life and your own head more than playing a semi-fictional version of yourself repeatedly in front of a live audience for many years.”
But as successful as she and the show became, Wong started to feel trapped in the fulfillment of her dream, worried that the show was preventing her from moving forward in her personal life, depressed that no future show could top her success.
Enter the pick-up artists. Wong became fascinated by the subculture after watching the VH1 show “The Pick-up Artist” and befriending some of the eliminated contestants.
“The techniques they learn are basically theater techniques,” Wong says. “Like me, they perform versions of themselves in clubs in structured/scripted routines.”
Wong experienced a taste of that world when a Korean American pick-up artist picked her up at South Beach club in 2008.
“I actually figured out halfway through that he was a pick-up artist and he confirmed,” Wong says. “And I continued to let the evening play out, mostly because there was nowhere else I had to go that night, but it was like being the only audience member at a really great show. When it was all over, I was left with some intense thoughts about whether or not it was all a performance, and at what point do I move onto ‘real life’— and what is ‘real life’ anyway when all you know is performance?”
After 23 drafts, several bad relationships and a weekend interviewing pick-up artists, Wong had an epiphany.
“I realized that this wasn’t just a quirky, arty show, it was a show that was about the intense psychology of my own loneliness,” says Wong. “I was drawn to these pick-up artists because I too had issues with connecting with people, fear of getting to know the ugly side of humans, and wasn’t sure how to make a genuine connection outside of theatrics. Like these pick-up artists, performance gave me a character that connected me to people. And my cat Oliver’s spraying problems also were his way of ‘creatively’ expressing his frustrations at being abandoned by me when I went on the road.”
This is the second Wong show produced by Mad Cat; her eco-conscious solo show Going Green the Wong Way was seen in Miami in 2011. For Tei, Cat Lady was a natural follow-up.
“I had a strong feeling that it would resonate with the local audiences because of its universal approach on dating today—the club scene, pick up artists, transient life style,” Tei says. “For Mad Cat, it was as if it was written for us, which of course it wasn’t, but it’s like finding that perfect song that you wanted to do a cover of and everyone thinks you wrote it yourself.”
Sadly, Wong’s cat Oliver died earlier this year.
“It was so sudden and very sad,” Wong says. “I love cats. I am not ready yet to get a new cat. So much commitment, and I think that each cat has such a particular personality. It’s like picking out a new boyfriend or girlfriend. But whenever I see a cat in the room I try to pick it up.”
Cat Lady runs through January 20 at The Light Box at the Goldman Warehouse, 404 NW 26 St., Wynwood Arts District, Miami. For tickets and more information, call 866-811-4111 or visit MadCatTheatre.org.