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Cat's-Paw 

A story of homegrown violence reminiscent of Charles Manson's group

A great actor could read the telephone book and bring you to tears. The disparity between acting talent and script is not that extreme in Cat's-Paw, but you can't escape feeling a lesser cast would not have so enthralled the audience.

  The set designed by Michael Aaron Santos is downright creepy. There's a bare table with an automatic pistol on it and a more extensive arsenal hangs on the wall. The place looks like a terrorists' lair — which, in fact, it is. William Mastrosimone wrote the play in 1986, and the story of homegrown violence is reminiscent of Charles Manson's group. Gang-leader Victor (Santos) and his cohorts often call their group, the People's Guard, a "family."

  The play is set in a warehouse in Washington, D.C. The People's Guard has kidnapped David Darling (Michael Harkins), an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official who sits handcuffed at the table. Victor bullies and heckles him constantly.

  Cathy (Rebecca Laborde) leads in a handcuffed, blindfolded TV journalist named Jessica Lyons (Ashley Ricord), who has secured an interview with Victor. The airtime will be a coup for both the reporter and Victor, especially because the People's Guard is taking credit for a car bombing in the capital on the same day. The contest of wills between Victor and Jessica — full of shifts and feints — is the central conflict of the drama.

  Victor rages against the powers that be, and he's particularly incensed about water being polluted with the consent of the authorities. More to the point, Darling is to blame for the pollution in Crystal River because he signed an EPA variance, allowing amounts of toxins above normal legal limits to be dumped in the water.

  More pieces of the melodramatic chess game begin to take shape. A protester immolated herself with gasoline at Crystal River, a story Jessica was supposed to cover, and Victor has spied on the reporter as she covered events. He believes the end justifies the means in his war against pollution, but we're not prepared for the final outburst of twists, revelations and violence that tie together the group's violent actions.

  Cat's-Paw boasts a heavy, complicated and perhaps too-well-woven plot. Director Mark Routhier assembled a top-notch cast that performes with great poise and conviction. — Dalt Wonk

Thru Feb. 18

Cat's-Paw

8 p.m. Thu.-Fri.

AllWays Lounge, 2240 St. Claude Ave., call 616-6606 for reservations; www.theallwaysloumge.com

Tickets $7 Thursday, $10 Friday general admission, $8 Friday students/seniors

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