Full disclosure: The synopsis for Cats Onstage!’s debut show, SpookyMsgPlsFWD!, mentioned unicorns, so I was already highly predisposed to liking it. Unfortunately, not even the presence of mythical beasts could rescue this dystopian parable from its muddled structure and technical mishaps.
Written and directed by (and starring, due to an unfortunate situation with one of the original lead actors, per the curtain speech) Adrian Jesus Iglesias, SpookyMsgPlsFWD! is set 60 years in the future, after a mass migration from America is triggered by things “getting bad” following the 2016 presidential election.
There’s a young woman (Aloysia Jean) with a mace and a chip on her shoulder who’s hunting a unicorn, which she hopes to turn in for an entry-level job at a major corporation. There’s an old man who loves movies. There are school plays and political rallies and cryptic chain messages. The rest of the cast (Scott Duvall, Jordanna Hernandez, Lauren Patton, Lori Pitts, and Nate Shelton) gamely embody a number of roles—from a three-person presidential council to children in a play to enforcement officers.
Written and directed by Adrian Jesus Iglesias
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If it sounds like there’s a lot going on, that’s because there is. SpookyMsgPlsFWD! is less a cohesive narrative than a string of loosely tied-together vignettes. Adding to the chaos of the content is a large number of technical components, some of which hindered rather than enhanced the experience (it was impossible to hear the actors over the ambient sounds at some points, and difficult to see them as well when there were lighting issues).
Still, there were some gems amidst the rubble. The creatively staged retelling of how things got so bad as performed by an elementary school class was engaging and affecting. And the fight scenes with the aforementioned unicorn were both hilarious and well executed.
The themes of political engagement, overreliance on technology, police brutality, gun violence, and more are timely and provocative, but they easily get buried under all of the pandemonium. Iglesias clearly has a lot of interesting ideas and his cast is to be commended on their total commitment to the work, but SpookyMsgPlsFWD! needs some heavy editing and polish before it’s really ready to gallop over the rainbow.
SpookyMsgPlsFWD! by Adrian Jesus Iglesias . Choreographer: Kristen Pilgrim . Featuring: Aloysia Jean,Adrian Jesus Iglesias, Scott Duvall, Jordanna Hernandez, Lauren Patton, Lori Pitts, and Nate Shelton . Designer: Caroline DeSantis . Produced by by Cats Onstage! . Reviewed by John Bavoso.