Monday, April 27, 2015

theatre review - THE TOMKAT PROJECT - Stray Cat Theatre - April 24, 2015

Brady Weber, Chris Mascarelli, Brandi Bigley,
Chanel Bragg and Tim Shawver
(photo: John Groseclose)

"The Tomkat Project follows the crazy courtship, marriage, and divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. While not everything about Tomkat is successful, it is a humorous play, with several laugh out loud moments, and Stray Cat has assembled a small and very talented cast who play the dozens of characters involved in the Cruise and Holmes story with chameleon like grace. Playwright Brandon Ogborn has crafted an interesting comedy that follows the relationship from its strange beginning to its even stranger end, the media obsession, and the parade of crazy characters who were involved. He also includes the many bizarre situations and interviews that happened during that time and his play has a nice payoff in the second act.  Ogborn wrote the play based on facts, rumors, theories, lies, "and, when appropriate, Wikipedia." Ogborn is also a character in the play, serving as the narrator, and his play lays out the many mysteries surrounding the Cruise/Holmes relationship, the potential role that Scientology played in it, and the erratic behavior that Cruise exhibited during their time together. While the majority of the play is made up, there are many actual conversations reenacted when a sign is held up that reads: "This dialogue is verbatim." These parts include the many notorious interviews that happened throughout the TomKat craze. We relive Cruise's disastrous press interviews, including his TV interview with Matt Lauer where he debates Brooke Shields' use of drugs for post-partum depression and calls Lauer "glib." The infamous couch jumping interview with Oprah Winfrey, where he professes his love for Katie, is a comical highlight. Each of these reenactments are hilarious and cringe worthy, knowing that the idiocy we are seeing actually happened.  And while the first act is humorous, Ogborn turns the tables in act two with the appearance of Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth who wrote a scathing article on Michael Jackson as well as one painting Holmes as the victim in her relationship with Cruise. Ogborn ponders the question: what if Katie Holmes is the villain in the story? Was she the one being used or the opportunist out to further her career? Was Cruise simply naïve and being manipulated by The Church of Scientology to further the Church's best interests? This twist, and the debates Ogborn has with Orth, and replays of scenes we've already witnessed but now with the victim roles reversed, elevate the play into a thought-provoking commentary and a cautionary tale about not believing everything we read and about just how far from the truth celebrity gossip might be. However, while there are many funny parts, Ogborn doesn't quite write as comical as he could, with some of the set-ups for the wackier moments not having as funny as a payoff as they should.  Director Louis Farber stages the proceedings with a fast pace and a cast of seven who are exceptional. Chris Mascarelli has a fairly good handle on Cruise's famous mannerisms and way of speaking, and actually makes you feel sorry for him. Brandi Bigley has Holmes' signature mannerisms down pat, from her constant need to touch and often move her hair to how she sometimes talks out of the side of her mouth in a somewhat quiet way. The rest of the cast vividly play dozens of characters. David Chorley is brilliant as the conniving, manipulative Scientology front man David Miscavige. Tim Shawver is just as good as Katie's confused dad, who is determined to get her away from Cruise. Kellie Dunlap morphs with a refined ease between Katie's mom and the relentless Orth. Chanel Bragg is a hoot as Oprah...and has a blast as Cruise's male lawyer. The TomKat Project ponders many "what if?" questions in our wacky world of celebrity fascination. Ogborn's play may not answer the many questions that are raised into the TomKat relationship, and could be funnier than it is, but it is an interesting study and an exposé of how the media can both help and destroy a celebrity. The ending is comically sweet, with the audio from an actual conversation between Winfrey and Cruise played out over the speakers in the theatre, in which Winfrey states "This is unbelievable," and Cruise responds, "I know, I know." While Winfrey is speaking about the view from Cruise's Colorado home it could just as easily apply to the entire TomKat history and Ogborn's in-depth, well-researched analysis of it and Stray Cat's crackerjack cast." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

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