By Nadja Leonhard-Hooper; Directed by Nadja Leonard-Hooper & Olivia McGiff
Produced by The Tank & Reckless Tricycle
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 11.19.16
Standard ToyKraft, 722 Metropolitan Avenue
by Shoshana Roberts on 11.15.16
Sarah Traisman and Nadja Leonard-Hooper in Vera & Valya & The Magical One Cat Circus. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
BOTTOM LINE: A top-quality farce about two Russian sisters and their strange magical cat Skazka, played by an amazing trio of actors.
What's in a name? Shakespeare's Romeo professes that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” yet would we each be a different person with an altered title? It seems Russian sisters Vera (Sarah Traisman) and Valya (Nadja Leonhard-Hooper) suffer as a direct result of the names their parents bestowed upon them. “Vera's name means truth. She was born wise. And no matter what the situation, no matter how much she wants to lie, she cannot help but tell the truth.” This proves most inconvenient—she even admits to peeing in her pants to a man she deeply respects. For Valya, short for Valentina, her name causes her to fall in love with every person she meets. The two women must work to overcome their predetermined fates if they are going to get their cat Skazka (Collin Knopp-Schwyn) into the Moscow Cat Theatre.
First comes The Old Man (Charley Layton) with a scowl and his angry accordion-playing. Then we are introduced to Vera and Valya, sisters and owners of the magical cat Skazka. As Vera and Valya practice their show, they await the arrival of the great magician Victor Voronin (Jeremy Brick), owner not only of the Moscow Cat Theatre, but of the sisters' hearts and admiration as well. Before the real Victor Voronin shows up though, an imposter (Patrick Brady) arrives claiming to be him. Valya falls in love, Skazka performs some tricks, and Vera knocks him out.
With such a clusterf**k of events and such a small stage the situation could easily spin out of control, but with this excellent cast the humor only increases with each side-splitting scene. Everything meshes together, from the half-cat/half-human paintings on the wall and Collin Knopp-Schwyn's tight cat-type clothing, to the thick red curtain with partly peeled off white stars and Brady's largely ridiculous fake mustache. All of it made me smile, chuckle, and shake my head, dumbfounded at the stupidly clever catastrophic puns. And the three main characters (Vera, Valya, and Skazka) are wonderfully crafted. Write Leonhard-Hooper gives life to each with excellent phrasing and strange pasts. Is Skazka a cat or a man? I am not entirely sure, but it doesn't matter.
Reckless Tricycle describes themselves as “a young company of physical theater makers, originally come together at Vassar College.” They fulfill this description in the most wonderful way. With such a strong team, there is no one person to attribute their success to, but they do owe many thanks to The Tank, a non-profit home for the arts which provides free rehearsal and performance space. Generally The Tank uses a space in Times Square, but they currently have residency at Standard ToyKraft in Brooklyn. This adds such a wonderful atmosphere of strangeness to the show as half of this Williamsburg audience looked like they could have taken part in a Russian cat fairy tale themselves. Then again, the hard wooden pews and cushionless folding chairs do not give the most comfortable seating options. Luckily they have a hit on their hands; the everyday physical world melts away as the accordion sets everything into motion. Just like Vera, I must tell the truth. I did not just give the customary applause at the end. Rather, I joyously cackled throughout this brilliant play and cheered for a spectacular performance.
(Vera & Valya & The Magical One Cat Circus plays at Standard ToyKraft, 722 Metropolitan Avenue, through November 19, 2016. The running time is one hour and ten minutes with no intermission. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8. Tickets are $15 and are available at brownpapertickets.com. For more information visit thecatcircus.com or thetanknyc.org.)
Vera & Valya & The Magical One Cat Circus is by Nadja Leonhard-Hooper. Directed by Nadja Leonhard-Hooper & Olivia McGiff. Choreography is by Tessa Permar. Set Design is by Olivia McGiff. Lighting Design is by Kelindah Schuster. Original Music is by Lacy Rose. Costume Design is by Zachary Paradise.
The cast is Charley Layton, Sarah Traisman, Nadja Leonhard-Hooper, Collin Knopp-Schwyn, Patrick Brady, and Jeremy Brick.