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Theater Review - Meow mix

Mother vs. daughter. Boss vs. worker. Friend vs. friend. The short plays that comprise PushPush Theater's Cats Have 7 Lives depict strife between women of all types.

Throughout the pieces, Wade Tilton plays various men, but they merely provide the catalysts for the tensions between the unnamed women portrayed by Jennifer Duran and Melanie Walker. In the first short play, Walker plays the distraught daughter of a callous, almost comically irresponsible mother (Duran): "Mommy's going out to hang herself with this rope!" The opener establishes Cats' recurring themes of power dynamics and betrayals of trust, casting Duran as the older, dominant or more emotionally intense antagonist, and Walker the more sympathetic or "normal" one.

German playwright Jenny Erpenbeck offers close variations on her themes. At a formal dance, Duran's sophisticate "gives" her boyfriend to Walker's wallflower, who finds herself disappointed after consummation. Later, Duran plays a wife suffering from terminal cancer who offers her husband to her best friend (Walker) after she dies — but outside the hospital room, the pair may have already started an affair.

Duran and Walker's engaging performances span the emotional spectrum, but Cats often proves to be prickly and forbidding. The short plays frequently end on slapstick stings — the women comically throttle each other, or collapse in heaps on floor — giving Cats the vibe of a one-hour sketch comedy show, only without the jokes.

The key to Cats lies not in the plays themselves but the show's framing device on film. Atlanta filmmaker Dave Bruckner returns to images of a woman stuck behind the wheel of her car, with tight shots of the red traffic light, the dashboard and her eyes, while an enigmatic voice-over monologue suggests a soul at war with itself. The sequences on film capture those times when, on a tedious commute, you might argue with yourself or obsess on a bothersome memory.

Duran and Walker each play at least a dozen women in Cats Have 7 Lives, but they all may be facets of the same person. Irritating yet undeniably insightful, Cats captures the multiplicity of roles we enact in our lifetimes.

-- Curt Holman


Cats Have 7 Lives plays through Aug. 14 at PushPush Theater, 121 New St., Decatur. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. $8-$16. 404-377-6332. www.pushpushtheater.com.