The Yale Cabaret is back for two more shows before the semester ends and the holidays begin. Up now is Cat Club, with two final shows tonight, and next weekend is Dilemma. Cat Club was created by an ensemble group: Paul Lieber, Timothy Hassler, Benjamin Fainstein, Hansol Jung, and Kate Tarker, with Lieber and Hassler in the guise of two cats—cool cats, yes, but also scaredy cats—who host a program rather reminiscent of that show those two dudes in Aurora, IL, got up to in a suburban basement. Yet there’s no need to harken to the public access days of cable, this is quirky comedy for the YouTube generation: Cat Club takes its name from a DIY program uploaded by Leelu Cutie Special, a little girl with cat ears, on the public site known for spawning viral views of often embarrassingly or riotously amateurish entertainment.
Lieber, Hassler, and Company go for something similar: the show we’re allegedly watching—as the TV audience—features opening and closing songs, a cooking demonstration, and an interview with the duo’s “biggest fan,” a segment that flirts with “dead air” the way some of the ground-breaking TV comedy of Andy Kaufman did, in his stand-up years. Like great comedy teams of yore—whether that means The Smothers Brothers or Wayne and Garth—Cat (Hassler, in the speckled costume) and his adopted brother Cat (Lieber, in the black and white costume) are often provoking each other, squelching each other, and backing each other up. They’re also willing to risk prop misfires, audience back-chat, dropped or batted ad-libs, and a scripted power failure, all for the sake of the high-wire of “live TV.”
As scripted, Cat Club gives us three episodes—and that’s where the trouble lies. Concluding each segment and opening the next takes the wind out of the sails pretty quickly—even with the amusing fake TV commercials in between—and thus the show is never so appealing as in that first episode. Even the windy pronouncements of the Fan are amusing the first time. Still, I couldn’t help thinking that the progressive loss of fun was part of the point, as if we were to imagine Kitty Cat Estragon and Kitty Cat Vladimir waiting for the end of the show. Stranded in live TV-land in cat costumes—could there be anything more absurd? It’s a question that comes up because Cat Club is willing to let some existential dread waft in from time to time.
Were there more of that, it would be easier to say what the show—as a Cab show—is after. As it is, the production showcases Lieber and Hassler as likeable comics—Lieber likes to sport with an avocado seed, while Hassler tends to be reactive—and as a songwriting duo. A different song is played at each opening and closing of the show—doubtless the most compelling reason for the gimmick. The songs are lively, and as singers the two complement each other well, but one wonders if standing on a mini-stage in cat costumes is the best of all possible presentations for the material.
Two musicians in search of a variety show? Perhaps, but if so, Cat Club would benefit from a little more variety. There are reasons why a single Saturday Night Live skit doesn’t run for an hour.
Cat Club Conceived by, and all music and lyrics by Paul Lieber and Timothy Hassler
Created by Paul Lieber, Timothy Hassler, Benjamin Fainstein, Hansol Jung, and Kate Tarker
Director: Benjamin Fainstein; Set Designer: Solomon Weisbard; Costume Designer: KJ Kim; Lighting Designer: Solomon Weisbard; Sound Designer: Palmer; Asst. Sound Designer/ Mixer: Tyler Kieffer; Video Designer: Michael F. Bergmann; Technical Director: Matthew Groeneveld; Stage Manager: Will Rucker; Producer: Caitie Hannon
The Yale Cabaret November 29-December 1, 2012