Who Needs Pussy?

A gay cat burgler loses his pants, finds himself

About 10 minutes into P.S. Your Cat Is Dead!, our risk-averse and timid hero Jimmy (Clarence Wethern) has lost his girlfriend, both his acting jobs, and, he soon learns, his cat (see title, above). To balance things out, he gains an unwanted companion in the form of burglar Vito (Jarius Abts) hiding in his closet. By the end, Vito has well and truly come out of the closet in more than one sense of the term. Jimmy? Well, his cat is still dead.

Jimmy discovers Vito on the worst New Year's Eve of his increasingly pointless life. And instead of sending the fellow packing and counting himself ahead of the game, he violently subdues him and ties him facedown over his kitchen sink. What follows is a series of petty tortures, one thing leads to another, and Jimmy cuts off Vito's jeans and leaves him bare-assed. This is a fine example of what is known as internal logic.

James Kirkwood (better known for writing A Chorus Line) scripted P.S. as a novel, a screenplay (Steve Guttenberg directs and stars; really!), and a stage play, and his dialogue keeps making little feints and jabs. Vito turns out to be both a divorced father and a onetime gay hustler, for instance, which creates a nicely off-kilter tension to the homoerotic S&M thing—the degree of which eludes Jimmy completely, until Vito begins to bait him with insinuations that he might not be as hetero as he purports.

Anxious about being upstaged, Clarence Wethern decides to turn his leading role into a two-hour monologue
Mark Webb
Anxious about being upstaged, Clarence Wethern decides to turn his leading role into a two-hour monologue

Wethern traces a course from put-upon blandness into grim sadism. Abts squints and sports a big self-amused grin, his character enjoying the hell out of the situation when he isn't begging to be released, delivering his dialogue in a nasal New York drawl that shifts on a dime from gruff to sweet. When ex-girlfriend Kate (Julie Ann Nevill) shows up with new beau Fred (Perry Thrun), Jimmy and Vito become instant conspirators, spinning tales of gay swinging and (resoundingly) convincing Kate that Jimmy wasn't such a stiff after all.

If matters could have been concluded in a long one-act, this might have been a nice, if sick, little tale about friends found in the least likely of places. But after the intermission Vito and Jimmy start to talk. And talk. Soon we're hearing about Vito's tales of past woe and Jimmy's (shudder) unfinished novel, with a soft-focus therapy-think that is frighteningly in line with the play's 1975 conception (think I'm OK, You're OK). Both schlumps would really like to feel better about themselves. Okay, fine. But what results might as well have been penned by Norman Vincent Peale.

There's a thoroughly painful interlude in which a trio of friends shows up, complete with a flouncing queen. Soon Jimmy's buddies seem to ponder raping him for some inexplicable reason, amid liberal use of the term "swinging." This comes on the heels of a scene in which Jimmy and Vito bond over a joint, providing the kinds of far-out insights into the human condition that are likely to convert the audience to mass sobriety. Finally, there's an interminable denouement in which Vito proposes the two of them move in together and midwife Jimmy's almost certainly horrid book. We're in triple-overtime; how about a shootout?

None of which is to say that the good will earned in the first act is entirely squandered. Wethern and Abts each carve out memorable characters, and when they're not compelled to spill their guts, their performances are tight and funny. By the end, though, the action becomes so lukewarm and equivocal that we have Jimmy talking about trying out sex with Vito. Just, you know, not today, because he's too tired. You and me both, Jimmy.

 
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