Expert casting for 'Catfish Moon' lands big results
People attending the new Ensemble Stage production, "Catfish Moon," looking for some big laughs will definitely not be disappointed. They might, however, be surprised at how the play touches them with other emotions, such as melancholy and regret.
"Catfish Moon," now playing at the Blowing Rock School Auditorium though Sunday, July 3, is a mixed bag of themes and emotions presented by characters who have depth and complexity. While the down-home Southern humor fits nicely into the story, it is not the overriding intent. Instead, Charlotte-based playwright Laddy Sartin appears to be aiming for the heart of the matter, never denying his characters a chance to be infuriated, awkward or sad.
The Ensemble Stage production of "Catfish Moon" stars Bob Haas, Stephen Moore, Mark Woodard and Maureen Klinedinst, all of whom inhabit their roles with finesse, refusing to let their characters be pigeon-holed into Southern stereotypes.
The story never mentions it, but the characters all appear to be in their early to mid-30s, and the setting is somewhere in the Deep South (two of the characters recall catching a baby alligator while fishing for bass). All of the action takes place on a dilapidated wooden pier on Cypress Lake, the site where the foursome of Frog, Gordon, Curley and Betty spent endless enjoyable hours as teenagers.
These days, however, life is much more complicated than it was during those carefree days of youth.
Betty and Frog married young and are now just coming to terms with their divorce. Gordon, an impulsive man who has been Betty's ally for decades, is coming to grips with his new romantic feelings for her. Betty has feelings for Gordon also, but has no desire to give up her hard-won independence. Curley, Betty's older brother, is trying to keep the three people most important to him from turning into a powder keg with a very short fuse.
When Frog discovers that Betty and Gordon are becoming an item, he becomes enraged, threatening friendships that have been built over decades. Curley decides the only way to salvage things are to have all three men take a fishing trip on Cypress Lake to air their grievances.
On the surface, the plot of "Catfish Moon" sounds more like a drama than a comedy, but there are plenty of outlandish humorous moments, sometimes smack dab in the middle of otherwise heart-wrenching scenes.
A veteran of numerous North Carolina productions, Moore makes his High Country theatre debut as Gordon, an impetuous manchild with a big heart. He longs to be taken more seriously by Betty and Curley, but sabotages his efforts by acting childish when his demands are not met.
Woodard, a longtime veteran of both "Horn in the West" and the Blowing Rock Stage Company, perfectly plays the newly divorced man who can't help but feel like he has just made the biggest mistake of his life. It is only when Gordon makes his move toward Betty does the reality of the situation begin to hit Frog, and his rage is evenly distributed toward Gordon and himself.
Haas, well known throughout the region from his work with Lees-McRae Summer Theatre and the Blowing Rock Stage Company, holds down the center of the play as Curley. An optimistic dreamer, you can see it in his eyes that he believes he can hold his teenage friends close forever by purchasing a piece of land at Cypress Lake. But as the play unfolds, we can see that Curley has devoted so much time and energy taking care of others that he has neglected some of his own needs.
An Ensemble Stage veteran of "Murderous Vineyard" and "Christmas in Blowing Rock 2," Klinedinst helps take "Catfish Moon" to some of its deepest, darkest places. Her short sad soliloquy on a shooting star forces the audience to feel time slipping away, not just for Betty but also for themselves. Despite carrying much of the emotional weight of the play, Klinedinst's Betty provides a good portion of the spunk and humor, as well.
"Catfish Moon" delves into themes, such as longtime relationships, family, growing up and fishing with a casual, natural sense of real conversation. Sartin's script leaves some dilemmas unresolved, just as life does.
Director Gary Smith has crafted a tight ensemble piece, and it is amazing what emotional and storytelling ground is covered in two hours by just four characters and one setting.
Unbeknownst to the cast and crew of "Catfish Moon," members of playwright Laddy Sartin's family were in the audience for last Sunday's matinee production of the play.
Laddy's wife and Anna's parents, Boone residents Warren and Mary Kate Dennis, enjoyed the show, along with Anna's brother, Cameron Dennis, who traveled from Winston-Salem with his wife, Terry, and their two sons.
Tickets & Times
Tickets for "Catfish Moon" are $16 for adults and $13 for seniors, military and students.
Performances are at the Blowing Rock School Auditorium on Sunset Drive on Friday, June 24, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, June 26 at 3:30 p.m.; Monday, June 27 at 7:30 p.m.; Tuesday, June 28 at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, July 1, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 2 at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, July 3 at 3:30 p.m.
For more information, or to reserve tickets, call Ensemble Stage at (828) 919-6196 or visit http://www.ensemblestage.com.