Mink Stole and Everett Quinton in
Now the Cats With Jewelled Claws
(© Jonathan Collins)
Mink Stole and Everett Quinton in
Now the Cats With Jewelled Claws
(© Jonathan Collins)
The sort of lyricism audiences expect from a play by Tennessee Williams blends with the kind of absurdist comedy normally associated with Eugene Ionesco in Williams' short play Now the Cats With Jewelled Claws, currently receiving its long-overdue New York premiere in the Club at La MaMa E.T.C. And thanks to the surehanded staging from director Jonathan Warman and a fine cast, this mere squib of a play provokes both laughs and thought.

Set in an upscale restaurant somewhere near a large urban department store (for which scenic designer Jonathan Collins has provided a spare, but appropriately kitschy environment), the show initially focuses on two well-heeled women, Madge (Mink Stole) and Bea (Regina Bartkoff), who have convened for a meal during the after-Christmas shopping rush.

Sitting at a cocktail table and swilling drinks from martini glasses, the two exchange epigrams and non-sequitur-filled banter that deftly skewer the trivialities that obsess the women and the bitchiness they bring to their worlds. Williams' tart -- and bizarre -- portraiture of the two can be summed up by a comment Madge makes about the almost human-sized bunny that Bea has bought for a friend's child: "It's a sad thing. An albino rabbit for a mongoloid child."

Before long, two hustlers (played with sex appeal, charm, and just a bit of menace by Joseph Keckler and Max Steele) come on the scene. The guys, sporting pink leather jackets emblazoned with "The Mystic Rose" on the back, are mid-spat about whether they should continue plying their trade. Eventually, theatergoers come to realize they are essentially as self-obsessed and petty as the older women, who cast long, disdainful looks them.

Presiding over the place is a Manager (Everett Quinton), while a very pregnant waitress (Erin Markey) is on hand to service the customers. These two characters will transform -- and as the play ends, one has to wonder if they are gate keepers to a sort of hell for the four diners.

The company blithely and gamely rises to each increasingly curious turn in the play. It's hilarious to watch Mink Stole's serene and snooty Madge join in an ultra-sexual dance break with Bea and the bunny, and a dance from the guys (choreography from Liz Piccoli) even manages to comically reference the abstracted works of choreographers like Martha Graham.

Bartkoff, who gives Bea an aggressive edge throughout, scores solidly as the character describes the new use she has found for an old hatpin. Quinton makes the manager a fey and randy variation on the sort of suave characters that were once played by the likes of Vincent Price, while Markey somehow manages to make the uncaring and ennui-filled waitress compelling.