The play “Catfish Moon” by Laddy Sartin is a simple story about normal Southern people at an old fishing hole, and Spokane Civic Theatre’s intimate Firth J. Chew Studio is a fitting place for it.
The innovative set design by David Baker depicts a dilapidated wooden pier with a dock that tips and moves as if floating on water. A backdrop of hanging “vines,” dim lighting and the sound of crickets creates a calm mood.
The shifting dock represents the shaky relationships among of the four characters: Curley (Dave Rideout), his sister Betty (Sara Nicholls), and his two longtime friends, Gordon and Frog (Billy Hultquist and Jerome Gray, respectively).
The narrow set created some challenges for first-time director Chris Wooley, but he did a good job choreographing movement, despite the fact that several fights break out on the rickety dock. This is particularly effective during a funny fishing scene in the second act.
The actors appear comfortable in their characters’ skins and have a nice rapport with one another.
Each of the characters seems to be caught in the middle of something. Curley, the big brother of the group, is stuck between two squabbling friends, Gordon and Frog. Gordon is close to falling off the wagon, and Betty is tangled in a love triangle with him and Frog.
Rideout and Nicholls’ performances are the most consistent and natural. Hultquist’s comic delivery is more effective as drunken Gordon than sober Gordon. The characters all dream of recapturing their youth and occasionally act immaturely, which gets tiresome to watch.
The script itself is not as deep as the lake at which it’s set, and Sartin’s plot is fairly predictable. For example, when Frog enters for the first time, he asks Gordon, “Is it true?” We instantly wonder if Gordon has been carrying on with Betty, Frog’s ex-wife, and we are right. Sartin only touches on serious themes like alcoholism and betrayal.
A bit more depth would increase the emotional payoff for the audience without weighing the story down.
There are, however, a couple plot twists and some memorable lines. “How far does a falling star fall?” Betty asks dreamily. And, “A wise monkey never monkeys with another monkey’s monkey,” Frog fumes.
“Catfish Moon” counts on nuance, and there were a few missed opportunities to heighten the conflict in the dialogue. For example, when Frog bursts onto the stage to rail against Gordon, Gordon responds, “Why aren’t you at the pool hall?” Hultquist delivers the question plainly, but why not turn it into an insult?
And for a woman who is caught between two men, Betty appears too innocent. Why not knowingly play them against one another a bit?
And, is fishing really enough to recapture youth and repair a friendship? The ending is rather abrupt, and the audience doesn’t have much time to process a significant event – well played by Rideout – before the comedic conclusion.
Viewers, though, will be drawn in by the dreamy, moonlit setting, characters who are all too familiar, and amusing turns of phrase.