Review of Catfish Moon

Billed as “a hilarious look at fishing, beer, and the meaning of life,” Haywood Arts Regional Theatre’s most recent offering, Catfish Moon, is a regional, aw-shucks comedy with a dramatic streak thrown in to make sure everyone leaves the theatre feeling like they learned something, or at least re-learned something, about the preciousness of life and friendship.

The show can be a bit too precious at times, and with predictability so intense that notes written at intermission speculating about the rest of the major plot turns were proven 100 percent, there are no surprises to be found here. Yet the cast and crew of this community theatre production fully dedicate themselves to their roles and efforts, and their enthusiasm pays off for anyone interested in a down-home Southern comedic evening.

Playwright Laddy Sartin’s fairly straightforward plot gets going as soon as the curtain rises on Curley and Gordon, two life-long friends, sitting on a dock by a lake, a cooler of beer at their feet while they lounge in the quiet of nature and discuss their present lives in a somewhat stilted exposition heavy opening scene.

Curley is trying to convince Gordon to help him purchase the land and dock from an ailing older man, the property figuring heavily in their youth’s tales of adventure and wildness on the lake during summer. Rounding out the trio of friends is Frog, who appears with a fury unrivaled and immediately pumps life and action into the play by accusing Gordon of being seen out on the town canoodling with his wife.

Betty, who is actually Frog’s ex-wife, is dating Gordon, who is the impetuous recovering alcoholic type and therefore wishes to propose after a few months of dating. Gordon reveals this to Curley, who just happens to be Betty’s brother, and strongly advises him against the proposal, and requests that perhaps out of respect Frog that Gordon and Betty lay a little low for a while. Curley’s fixation on two things, the old man and his property and somehow resurrecting the friendship between Frog and Gordon, propel the plot into the largely unsurprising yet still energetically performed more dramatic second act.

Jack Ross as Curley and Jacky Webb as Gordon take a bit of time to find their natural rhythm in the first scene, their physicality stilted in the awkward blocking that has them rising from their seats for no particular reason other than to punctuate a thought. When the actors are left in their seats, as real men usually sit when talking on a dock, there is a natural ease and flow with the language and characterization.

Ross is appropriately stately in his big brother role, and handles the depiction of his character’s persistent heartburn subtly despite the obvious foreshadowing.  Webb is effective as the erratic and somewhat wild Gordon, and Tom Dewees’ Frog is lit from within by a veritable fire of irrational fury and temper that was a pleasure to watch. The most natural performance of the evening came from Jessica Bachar as Betty, a woman trying to enjoy her time with Gordon while simultaneously healing from her recent divorce. Despite needing to bump up her vocal energy a few notches, Bachar was immediately relatable with her quiet strength and graceful way, a nice contrast to the men.

The set is well-designed and constructed, evoking the dock at the lake of any audience member’s childhood summer haunt, and is well-lit, with night-sky backdrops complete with the title’s catfish moon. Director Allison Stinson could tighten a few transitions and help the actors find a more natural physicality on the small dock platform, particularly in the first scene (and at any time when there is not some type of demanding action). Still, overall, the direction is clean and solid and the show runs smoothly and at a good pace.

Catfish Moon is a situational comedy-style show about friendship, beer and the meaning of life, served with a side of Southern flavor. If this tagline piques your appetite, HART’s current production runs through Labor Day weekend.

Catfish Moon, by Laddy Sartin. Directed by Allison Stinson. Weekends through September 5.
Time: 7:30 p.m. Admission: $18 for Adults, $16 for Seniors. Box office: 828-456-6322. Address: 250 Pigeon Street, Waynesville. Venue phone: 828-456-6322.

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