'Cat's Paw' travels down rabbit hole of domestic terrorism

​Theatre Pro Rata's Artistic Director Carin Bratlie says that the opening date of the terrorist-based thriller Cat's Paw was entirely a coincidence. The 1980s-era William Mastrosimone piece opens on the 10th-anniversary weekend of 9/11.

"We picked the play and when I entered it into the schedule, this was the weekend that came up," she says. 

That doesn't mean there won't be any acknowledgment of the connections, however, including a panel discussion following Sunday's matinee performance.

[jump] Cat's Paw focuses on domestic terrorism. In this case, fictional environmental group Earth Now! has just detonated a bomb in Washington D.C. killing 27 people, including a group of United States senators. The play follows a cell of this organization in their warehouse hideout, as group leader Victor brings in a young TV reporter to explain why what they have done was the only path to saving the world.

"When we read the play, everyone was excited to talk about the issues of the piece right away, instead of just talking about the merits of producing it. That's a clear sign that it is a possible Pro Rata show," Bratlie says.

The production opens the 10th season of the company, which uses a text-based approach to bring its shows to the stage. 

"I prefer plays where it is about the characters, and the development of the story through character interaction. This play does it. It was really invigorating to dig into what the work was about," she says. "This piece puts a very human face on the terrorists. It doesn't support or approve of terrorist acts, but it helps you understand why people may do these things."

The subject matter also provides an in to the audience, as people typically want clean water and a safe environment. "How far do you go for what you want? Is it okay to do the right thing for the wrong reasons?" Bratlie says.

The media side of the coin also comes under scrutiny in the play; its responsibility in spreading the message, and giving unwitting support for the terrorists to spread their message.

And while it does debut over a sensitive weekend, Cat's Paw examines quite a different situation. "It's removed from the reality of 9/11, so it doesn't immediately shut down the discussion. There's a morally ambiguous core to the play which fascinates me, with characters that are shades of grey. Ultimately, this is a play that is very intense and hard hitting, so we have been really making sure that we find the humanity within them, on all sides of the coin," she says.

Cat's Paw runs Saturday through September 25 at the Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul.