Catapult! at Theater For The New City, Review
Matthew James Fitzgerald is an actor who supplemented his income by working as a woodworker. Fittingly his first produced play is about a plumber and his woodworker friend who take the New York art scene by storm.
Catapult! begins in chaos. Perhaps the whole company is on stage. We are not sure where to focus our eyes. There’s a flurry of activity as many workers are preparing a gallery for an exhibit opening. Then it becomes clear who our protagonists are. They are haphazardly assembling a set of pipes that will soon be mistaken for a sculpture. And not just any sculpture, one that is noticed by a well-known collector with deep pockets and influence. From then on we are taken on a whirlwind spin in the art scene with all its pretensions and double speak. We are witnessing a piece of art that is also a parody of art. It’s all a farce.
Catapult!, which opened at the Theater for The New City in the East Village last Friday, sometimes feels like it wants to have it both ways. Parody the art world scene and its fraudulence while indulging in the same attitudes it is parodying. Art can mean anything, it is how we interpret it. It is an obvious point to make. And clear to everyone even before the play starts. But there could be fun to have in the meantime. So we laugh as the characters spout too many words that mean nothing, show us their ignorance, their hypocrisy and pomposity as they make it up. It’s funny the first time it’s done but not the fifth or 20th.
Taking us through are Tyrus the plumber (Robert Lunde) and Joan the woodworker (Joan Saunders), their conniving art dealer Rudy Zuchert (Daniel Kloeffler). The ride is sometimes fun as they conspire to fool everyone around them. They are aware that what they are selling is fake, and aware that maybe nothing is real so what’s the harm. And those who they are fooling are not exactly characters we need to empathize with, so no harm done. However too much of this disingenuousness leaves a bitter aftertaste. Why is everyone so smug and self-satisfied?
The actors don’t help alleviate this bitter taste. They cross the line from playing smug to being too satisfied with their performances. Particularly uncomfortable is Kloeffler, trying on too many facial expressions that distract rather than deepen the performance. Teri Monahan comes in halfway through as Zelda, an artist who knows exactly how bullshit all this is. And while she has to do the same doublespeak dance, somehow it comes out as more authentic from her. And funnier. She’s in on the joke and authoring it too, the sign of an actor knowing how to entertain. Kate A. McGrath’s tart line delivery as a lifelong skeptic infuses the show with energy and is a delight to watch.
The staging by Tony White is arbitrary with actors walking around fixing the art in the middle of scenes, creating confusion. Maybe the point is that art is chaos? But the repetition of this just confuses the audience with our eyes not knowing where to focus. It’s thin line between satirizing something and becoming it. Catapult! crosses that line. I left in on the joke but unsatisfied.