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Thursday, July 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 78.0° F  Mostly Cloudy


Family dysfunction is funny in Broom Street Theater's Cattywompus

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In a week filled with much sadness because of the crisis in Haiti, Broom Street Theater's Cattywompus is a welcome escape into fun. Written by Broom Street regulars Justin Lawfer and Christina Beller, who also directs, Cattywompus gives the cast the opportunity to showcase their diversity and depth as actors. At Friday's opening performance, it also gave the full house a chance to laugh their hearts out.

Cattywompus is the tale of a rather dysfunctional family. With a mom who's on husband number seven and a brother with an especially dramatic form of multiple personality disorder, Mike (Anthony McKenzie) seems the only "normal" one in his family. He's about to be married, and his mother, played exuberantly by Amanda Jones, has no bones about letting him -- and anyone else who will listen -- know her feelings about his future bride. "A walking yeast infection" is one of her painfully descriptive metaphors for Barbara (Kate Boomsma).

As Mike, Anthony McKenzie is a perfect choice. For most of the play, he's the standard of normalcy; his acting seems subtle against the garishness of mother Beatrice, the wild transformations of brother Richard (Shaun), and the shrieks of bridezilla Barbara. When the play opens, it seems that he's the one to watch, bound to surprise us with a transformation along the way. And while Mike does learn a lesson or two, the character who pulls the audience along best is Richard.

Shaun (he's listed by just his first name in the program), takes on a challenging role with many rapid character transitions as he captures those many personalities. From ruler-cracking Sister Rosemary to turtle-huntin' Cletus to flamboyant Gustav, Shaun captures his character du jour, or rather, du minute, with exceeding skill and energy. As wild as the characters are, he's startlingly convincing.

At first glance the underdog of the show appears to be, well, the dog. When Scott Frazier first appeared on stage in a dog costume, I grimaced. Humans playing animals can be annoying. But Frazier -- in his multiple roles -- is a delight to watch. The audience loved his antics, canine and otherwise. In a particularly gut-busting scene, he plays the flower girl Melonie. Melonie is a hearty nod to Amy Poehler's Saturday Night Live character Kaitlin, a highly caffeinated little girl who won't shut up about wanting to go to space to teach dancing. Wearing a white dress and bloomers with an inexplicable British flag pattern, Frazier bounces all over the stage, like any self-respecting hyperactive flower girl would.

My biggest beef with Cattywompus is a complaint I've voiced about other Broom Street shows. It's too friggin' long. At over two and half hours, there are some scenes that still need thorough editing, especially the two final scenes of Act 1. However, outside of these two scenes, the pace feels right. Very short scenes with rapid transitions create the sense of a sketch comedy show, despite the continuous story. I longed for a maintaining of this pace, which kept me engaged and eager for the next clever moment, of which there are plenty.

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