Monday, April 27, 2015

reviews - THE TOMKAT PROJECT - Stray Cat Theatre

Brady Weber, Chris Mascarelli, Brandi Bigley,
Chanel Bragg and Tim Shawver
(photo: John Groseclose)
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

 "THE TOMKAT PROJECT is a blisteringly funny account of the undeniably bizarre courtship, then marriage between Scientologist Tom Cruise and actor turned Scientologist Katie Holmes.  Performed by seven actors who play more than fifty characters between them, THE TOMKAT PROJECT chronicles how Tom Cruise wanted a girlfriend and how the church aided him with his search.  The play needs no set and very little in the way of props, just the talent of seven players, though scenic designer Eric Beeck has effectively created the look of what appears to be the back of a theatre or a somewhat messy studio soundstage complete with hanging cables, a stepladder and two desks that flank either side.  Playwright Ogborn (a bespectacled Brady Weber) lets us know from the beginning that what we’re about to see is a satire based on truths, media reports, imagined conversations, and downright lies, though the lies are more for comic effect than an effort to misinform.  When a conversation is real, Ogborn holds up a sign telling us that what we’re hearing is verbatim.   The cast, all seven, are terrific.  Kellie Dunlap, Chanel Bragg, David Choley and Tim Shawyer jump from exaggerated character to character at a moment’s notice while the remaining three stick to their singular, assigned role.  Brandi Bigley’s Katie has just the right amount of mid-western cuteness that sticks out like a sore thumb when surrounded by west coast sharks, and while Chris Mascarelli looks nothing like Cruise, he nevertheless manages to promote the essence of the movie star with a distinctive Cruise laugh and hand gestures.  The standout is David Chorley’s hilarious David Miscavige.  He plays the current church leader as a hammy, fey London thespian.  But, unfortunately, you can’t have everything, and things seem to fall apart when playwright Ogborn steps out of the role of narrator and inserts himself into the play by engaging in a debate with Vanity Fair correspondent Maureen Orth (an excellent, bitchy portrayal by Kellie Dunlap).  The issue is initially interesting, even thought-provoking, when the perspectives of Cruise and Holmes are reversed as the two writers argue over who was really manipulating who, but the scene spirals downwards as characters become physical with ear-piercing screams and shouts, resulting with Orth forcibly dragged off- stage and out of the theatre.  It’s difficult to say who’s at fault; Brandon Ogborn’s script or director Louis Farber’s interpretation of the scene.  Up until that moment, Farber had displayed an admirable talent for farce by keeping all the action moving at a crisp pace without having his cast looking like community theater players bumping into each other while attempting Monty Python.  I suspect the issue is with Ogborn’s script, and the play never fully recovers. Still, up until that moment, THE TOMKAT PROJECT keeps hitting target after wicked target with a pulse that never quits. " -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"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)

"the craftily devious look at Tom Cruise’s sexuality in “The TomKat Project,” the season closer for his Stray Cat Theatre...associate artistic director, Louis Farber, staged the hysterical slap at the popular actor.  With seven actors portraying a host of wacky characters surrounding Tom Cruise and his wife, Katie Holmes, “The Tom Kat Project” looks with a squinted and skewed look at Cruise’s unusual situations and his rhapsodic devotion to Scientology beliefs.  Director Farber keeps things flowing swiftly as the revelations and bizarre shenanigans flow furiously. Seven actors play 54 characters ranging from Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman, and Tom Hanks to Cruise’s baby, Suri.  The superb ensemble goes back and forth among the characters with ease as they define each person with clear distinction.    Brady Weber plays playwright Brandon Ogborn as a crafty narrator.  Chris Mascarelli essays Cruise with awesome stature but also amazing denials of what he does.  Brandi Bigley is a loyal and trusting Holmes.   Tim Shawver has a field day with Spielberg.  Chanel Bragg creates a wacky Winfrey, Kellie Dunlap is a wild Suri, and David Chorley is a bizarre Scientology preacher." -Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"Billed as "a biting satire about the three-way marriage of Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Scientology," Stray Cat Theatre's season finale is a sort of docu-comedy that re-creates media interviews and mixes them in with the wildest imaginings of playwright Brandon Ogborn. The results are one part TMZ, one part "SNL" and one part WTF, the latter not necessarily in a good way....The danger sign is that the playwright has written himself into the script. At first, the character serves as a superfluous narrator, but in the second act things take an unfortunately meta turn as Ogborn (Brady Weber) questions his own narrative and presents an alternative theory that casts Holmes as the devious mastermind behind the entire tabloid spectacle.  Unfortunately, it's not a very credible narrative and, more importantly, it's not a very funny one, either. Instead, it suggests that Ogborn isn't really sure what point he's trying make.  A bit of free advice for playwrights: If you have one of your actors joke that "the audience is getting bored," you need to make absolutely sure it isn't true." -Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

"Stray Cat Theatre strikes again with a compelling, uproarious, and perfectly incisive staging of Brandon Ogborn's The TomKat Project, the quasi-fictional accounting of the very public and stormy relationship between Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, and David Miscavige.  Having learned some lessons about how far to push the envelope on the Church, the playwright (smartly portrayed by Brady Weber) advises the audience at the show's outset that "the following scenes are based on rumor, gossip, hearsay, theory, fantasy, lies and when appropriate, the Internet."  But, you ain't seen nothing yet until you've been transported into Mr. Ogborn's wacky version of the behind the scenes Tom-foolery related to the 14-year (1998-2012) affaire de coeur of America's transitory lovebirds, Tom & Katie.Mr. Ogborn has...turned it upside down and inside out and conceived a hilarious multi-tiered confection of provocative comedy.  First and foremost, he has scribed a lively send-up on the making of celebrity and the mindless complicity of the media and Hollywood big shots in turning straw into gold. Next, he submits the romance as an intrigue of sorts, where nothing in the motivations and causality of the TomKat marriage may be as it seems and where the audience is compelled to keep its collective brains and eyes very wide open. And the icing on this oeuvre, bless the playwright's heart, is the laying bare of the mumbo jumbo and connivances of pseudo-churches.  Directed by Louis Farber, this production is like SNL on steroids, but with a top gun cast, nimbly firing off memorable caricatures of the famous, infamous, and those on the periphery of fame. It's a roast that will leave you breathless with the weight of the fast and furious performances of seven actors who are at the top of their game, playing over fifty distinct roles.  Chris Mascarelli plays Cruise like a fiddle, plucking away mercilessly at the vainglorious actor's vulnerability at one moment and his superficial machismo at another. Brandi Bigley's Katie is a marvelous contrast to Mascarelli's celebrity psycho. She captures the apparent sweet innocence and vulnerability of the aspiring actress.  David Chorley delivers a scathing, jaw-dropping, and hilarious portrayal of a charlatan and puppeteer in action, a needy nutcase wearing the mask of a nefarious tyrant, swooning over Tom and ever-conspiring to control his flock. Tim Shawver is remarkably versatile and engaging as he switches roles. Chanel Bragg is wildly amusing and spirited in her varied portrayals of such luminaries as Bert Fields, Tom's attorney, and Nicole Kidman, and, especially in her turn as Oprah. Kellie Dunlap brings an energy to the stage that is vivid and inspired.Thank heavens or, more rightly, Mr. Ogborn for a play that courageously skewers the celebrity kebabs and nabobs upon whom, with endless fascination, society dines.  Thanks loads to Mr. Farber and an extraordinary ensemble for an extraordinary staging of this play.  By all means, run to see this show. Every zing will pull the strings of your heart and mind." -Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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