It was a great night when I got to see Cats for the first time. In fact, it was only about a month and a half ago (July 31, 2015). My friend Angela and I made plans to see it together, and she invited a few of her friends to join us. It was such a beautiful summer day and we were all excited and curious about the show, since we hadn’t seen it before. Part of what made this production so special is that this theater company does their productions every summer outside, in a setting that compliments the story they are telling. Since they were doing Cats, they choose to build their stage in front of an abandon building that was once part of the town’s mental hospital. Since it was outdoors, we can early to set up lawn chairs, and then we had a picnic dinner and relaxed before the show. When the show finally started, I was not disappointed by the quality or the staging of this play. It still amazes me what the Acting Out Theater Company is able to do with their outdoor settings. Plus, we even had a full moon rising over us toward the end of the evening, which when perfectly with the show. It was pretty cool.
[All of the pictures I'm including in this post are from the Acting Out Theater Company's Production]
Overall, I have a fairly positive view of this musical, which rather surprised me, but I thought it has more questionable content than it does. I believe there is a lot that can be observed from the plot of this musical, if we take the time to look at the plot a little more closely.
Seeing Life From A Cat’s Perspective is Thought-Provoking
I must confess that I am more of a dog person than a cat person. I have had some bad experiences with cats as a child that kind of turned me off to being a cat lover. And even my love of dogs did not come until I was in college. However, even though I’m not as fond of cats, I found the insights into a cat’s train of thought to be very interesting, even if some of it was in the mind of human writers. I was very amused when they talked about their names in the song The Naming of Cats. It makes you think that maybe cats do have different names for themselves than we do. Any pet get used to the name that we call them, but in their minds, they probably have their own names that they call each other. And the names they came up with for each other are not anything like human names, or a name a human would could probably conceive for his pet. It was extremely interesting to me.
I was also intrigued by the stories of each of the different cats’ lives and the concept of the Jellicles and the Jellicle Ball. The times when I’ve watched cats and dogs playing, I’ve sometimes wondered what is going on in their heads and how they perceive what is going on around them. This play gives us the opportunity to explore the possibilities of what is going on in their heads. Although it is fictional and humanized to a certain degree, it’s done in a creative way that is very compelling to the audience. You are totally drawn into the cats’ world, and that is credit to great writing and acting.
Don’t Judge A Person (or a Cat) By Its Cover
When Old Deuteronomy (the Jellicle Cats’ patriarch) chooses Grizabella to ascend to the Heavenside Layer, their hearts are changed towards her. I think there is a profound lesson that can be learned from Grizabella’s story.
We are so quick to judge people without knowing their story. We judge them for everything from their outward appearance to our first impressions of them. We do this without getting to know them as a person. We don’t take the time to learn their story. As a result, we often miss the opportunity for a relationship to be built or for lessons to be learned from their lives. We often turn our hearts bitter and make enemies for ourselves in the process. When we do, we miss a very powerful point.
As a Christian, I believe that we are to remember a few key truths in this matter. Fellow Christians, we are NOT called to judge those that do not commit to our standards of morality or judge anyone based on their outward appearance. One of the biggest problems in this matter is assuming that we should. What we are called to do is listen to them, give them the value they deserve as human beings, and find ways to demonstrate love toward them. I have often found that it’s the stories that I do not to listen to at first are the ones that I most need to hear. This is especially true of the story of people’s lives. Listening to the stories of people’s lives and taking to heart to wisdom (both direct and indirect) within their life stories is a wise practice for anyone, no matter what stage of life you are in yourself. I appreciate how prominently this truth plays out in the story of Cats.
The Concepts of Rebirth and Heaven Are A Little Off-Center
The only major problem I had with the plot of Cats was this concept of rebirth and the “Heavenside Layer.” Now, there are a few things I need to clarify before I explain my disagreement. First, part of the concept of their rebirth is connected to the idea that cats have nine lives, which when you get down to it from a scientific standpoint, most people know this is not true. Second, I am fully aware that we are taking cats verses humans, but that is also part of my frustration with the way that this is presented here.
In this play, their concept of rebirth is basically to be given a new chance at life when they prove to be the most worthy. Grizabella ends up being chosen because she proved to be the most worthy, but she also had the greatest need. She had lived a full life and had been through a lot. This meant that she was worthy of making the ascent to their version of Heaven. And it seems to be implied that Grizabella will return to earth as another cat in another life.
As a Christian, I believe that we are called to be born again, but not in any way like they portray it in Cats. We are called to confess our wrongdoings, admit that we are in need of a Savior, and then go through a spiritual rebirth as it is symbolized in the act of baptism. We are supposed to die to ourselves and our old ways of life, but it’s more of a redirection of our current lives. Because the truth is that we only get one pass at life. There is no chance of reincarnation or physical rebirth once we are dead. I also believe that our ability to get to Heaven is not based on any of our own merits or who has suffered the most in this life. Our ability to get into Heaven is based solely on Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross, our acceptance of this sacrifice, and the way we lived our lives in response to this sacrifice. That is definitely a different version of salvation than I see portrayed in Cats. However, as long as you know about and understand this difference, I think this is still a great play to watch.
Other Positive Elements
These comments are specifically directed at the production I saw, because I believe that the Acting Out Theater Company did a phenomenal job! The makeup and costume design for this production was top-notch. The quality of this production lived up to all my expectations and more. They picked the perfect setting for the Russell Hotel and it was even more awesome to see the moon rising over us toward the end of the play. Well done AOTC!