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Playwrights Horizons, New York City

The Pain of My Belligerence
4.0Reviewer's Rating

On a first date in which Cat can barely get a word in, and after being subject to her date’s toxic and arrogant ramblings (to which he fully admits are signs of him being “a monster” and “profoundly mentally ill”), it inspires exhausted and eye-rolling-induced laughs when he finally says to the human being across from him, “so: what about you?” Good question. Most of what we’ve heard of Cat so far are giggles that express no joy, but only a painfully relatable desire to be liked. To the point of agony, Halley Feiffer has only written Cat to exist in the context of the married man she falls for from the beginning, so her true self is arguably never revealed until the play’s end. And Feiffer’s answers to this are never easy to accept.

The playwright herself is Cat, in a role tailor-made to her own quirks and personality, in a harrowing and very personal story. Among Feiffer’s already admirable canon of work, this one is even darker and effortlessly more topical. We track Cat’s regress into lyme disease and severe depression over three scenes, on three separate presidential election nights (the two most recent, and the one to come in 2020). Feiffer lets our traumatic memory and fading hope around these events sit at the margins, ever present and only as effective we allow them to be. Visually with the help of Mark Wendland’s modernist wooden design, which we find out came from the work of Cat’s problematic date, Feiffer and director Trip Cullman hang the black cloud of the patriarchy ever so presently, placing us directly in Cat’s (and perhaps Feiffer’s) own experience.

As her lover spins his trap around his prey, Cat remains blissfully unaware, or doesn’t want to be rude by speaking out of turn. The fiery nature that Cat and Guy (played to perfection by Hamish Linklater) create together certainly makes for high drama, but also paints details in broad strokes. Their deep-seeded need for each other is obvious only to them. Our reluctant heroine seems to be the only one that cannot see how bad of a path this is leading her down.

Despite her actions, Feiffer discerningly asks that we not judge Cat. “It’s super on trend to blame the woman right now,” Cat hurls at Guy on the night of that election. At the same time, Cat is someone that’s not always easy to root for. In Cat, Feiffer reflects the experience of so many women that got unlucky, fell in love at the worst time, and somehow managed to get up in the morning anyway. In this age of women rising up to claim their space, Cat is still figuring out just how she can do that for herself.

In a soothing final scene, Cat visits her former lover’s former wife, Yuki (a magnetic and uplifting performance by Vanessa Kai), in a conversation that may serve as a model for forgiveness and tenacity in the face of life-or-death internal struggle. Even by the end of this scene, we don’t know if Cat will be able to dig herself out of her depression. But she’s trying. And Feiffer asks that we grant her the space and the time to heal.

  • Dark Comedy
  • By Halley Feiffer
  • Directed by Trip Cullman
  • Cast includes Halley Feiffer, Vanessa Kai, Hamish Linklater, Keira Belle Young
  • Cast includes: Halley Feiffer, Vanessa Kai, Hamish Linklater, Keira Belle Young
  • Playwrights Horizons, New York City
  • Until 12 May 2019

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