What happens when you take Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, turn the emotive-meter up to “camp,” replace the female roles with men in full-out drag and place the thing on a roof? You get Ryan Landry’s Pussy on the House — an irreverent yet respectfully draggy take on the classic southern melodrama about a greed-driven family vying for a piece of the plantation pie as the dying patriarch (or, matriarch in this case) bellows his (her) final fury. But no one’s prepared for what the sex-starved Maggie “the cat” has up her sleeve.
With this production, Hell in a Handbag has taken a side-step from its typical formula of producing original camp-tastic works by Handbag founder and artistic director David Cerda. While Handbag’s trademark camp, laughs and acting-as-subtle-as-the-makeup are still very much alive in Pussy, there are actually some very real emotions being played out on the small Athenaeum Theatre Studio Space stage, which I believe is a first for Handbag. And most of this credit goes to Jeremy Myers as Maggie. Dolled up like Elizabeth Taylor, Myers has every opportunity to make Maggie a screaming, clawing caricature. Instead he finds the truth in Maggie, without sacrificing the comedy. It’s a fine balance, and Myers handles it wonderfully. Under Matthew Gunnels’ deft direction, Myers’ scenes with Honey West as Big Mama (yes, Big Daddy is now a butch lesbian, which adds to the drama of the family estate’s fate since her relationship with her wife isn’t legal by “proper society standards”) are also very strong, and West also knows how to make a scene resonate with honesty within a camp reality.
Because Pussy‘s storyline tracks so closely to Williams’ script, but with a word or turn of phrase to land a joke (example: as a stand-in for Buck’s drinking problem, Maggie discovers her emotionally damaged lover is sniffing glue. “This stuff’s destroying you!,” she pleads, to which Buck replies, “No, it’s holding me together!” Get it? Glue? Holding things together? Har, har, har!), you get pulled into the greed-driven plot because the foundational material is so strong. However, I’d have liked Landry to have taken things even further — using Williams’ play as a jumping point rather than such a closely hewn homage — but for what it is, it’s a great time.
“Pussy on the House” plays through October 30 at The Athenaeum Theatre’s Studio Space #3, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Tickets and more info >