How rich and powerful was print and media mogul William Randolph Hearst? Rich and powerful enough to get away with murder. That’s the premise for Steven Peros’ play The Cat’s Meow at Eastbound Theatre in Milford. Set on Hearst’s yacht in 1924, the play features colorful characters such as Charlie Chaplin, Louella Parsons and Thomas Ince.
Based on the mysterious and sudden death of silent movie innovator Thomas Ince, this production has all the potential for being a roaring success for Eastbound. However, this large cast on this small stage proves problematic and some of the character portrayals are too ambitious for the Milford ensemble.
The play is laced with romance, infidelity, and scenes that are definitely appropriate only for an adult audience. Most of the guests on Hearst’s yacht want to gain Hearst’s favor and some have invited their mistresses onboard. Hearst’s lover, actress Marion Davies, finds that one affair is not enough and is also having an affair with Charlie Chaplin. Charlie Chaplin has gotten a young actress in one of his films pregnant, but he doesn’t want anything to do with the young woman. This play not only suggests a possible solution to the Thomas Ince mystery, but reflects the lack of morals held by the Hollywood “in” crowd during the 1920s.
Johnson Flucker makes a formidable Hearst. His deep voice and confident manner communicate well the arrogance of Hearst. Rob Hunt as Charlie Chaplin the man, the not-silent film character, gets close to the bone with his egomaniac interpretation. Marc Hartog also pulls off his portrayal of Thomas Ince with a full range of emotions. Cathy Cordaro not only acts as Elinor Glyn, but becomes the narrator for the play. She does so with panache. Sara Detrik as Marion Davies adds plenty of charm to the production. Some of the other characters were played with an over-abundance of artificiality while other actors seemed to be extra bodies on stage with no discernible character attributes.
Director Joel Fenster took on the enormous task of directing about a dozen actors on a small stage. This made for awkward entrances and exits, and bedroom scenes that should have been wow factors turned into down factors. Really, one bedroom squeezed on the set and used for two different love scenes just doesn’t work. Kevin Pelkey’s set design was far too cramped and busy, although the central focus with Hearst at the helm of the yacht worked well. Deborah Burke’s costumes were adequately appropriate for the era and the characters, including the stage hands who were decked out in nautical attire. Donald Rowe’s light design worked well.
Also in the production are performances by: Valerie Solli, Stephen DiRocco, Jean Marie Warncke, Qesar Veliu, Nick Kaye, Sue O’Hara, Sierra M. Williams, and Jessica Drozdzynski.
Overall, this is a missed opportunity for a smash hit, but it is a play filled with memorable moments and plenty of fascinating trivia. It plays through June 21. Box office: 203-878-6647
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]