Absurdist Marin Theatre Company comedy strips bare society’s values

[Woody’s Rating: ★★½☆☆

Wink the cat (John William Watkins, top) surprises his therapist, Dr. Frans (Kevin R. Free), with his intimacy at the Marin Theatre Company. Photo by Kevin Berne.

The adage “There’s more than one way to skin a cat” dates to the mid-19th century.

But “Wink,” playwright Jen Silverman’s dark absurdist comedy at the Marin Theater Company, shows how it still applies in 2019.

Surrealistically.

With layer upon layer of twists that result now and then in audience befuddlement.

The 80-minute show’s all about the slim line between savagery and civilization, focusing on relationships: between a hostile husband and equally seething wife; between a loving cat and a pet-lover; between a vengeful cat and a pet-hater; between a confused and thin-skinned therapist and several more-confused yet psychologically naked patients.

And between everyone else and an imaginary invader/terrorist who takes a physical form.

With overtones of love, hate and homosexuality.

And violence.

The world premiere, which took Silverman seven years to bring “into being,” drew these comments from opening nighters as they filed out: “Weird,” “bizarre” and “I liked it.”

I liked its differentness, its toying with my cerebral cells, its high sight-gag quotient, and even its depicting extremes of behavior, but disliked its obliqueness, its opaqueness. I much prefer being able to fully understand what I’m seeing.

John William Watkins assumes the title role and body language of Wink the cat. With aplomb.

But no clothes (except for a figurative fabric figleaf).

Sophie (Liz Sklar) is irked by her husband, Gregor (Seann Gallagher), in “Wink.” Photo by Kevin Berne.

His exceptional acting chops are equaled by each of the other three cast members — Kevin R. Free as Dr. Frans, a therapist who befriends (and wants to emulate) the dead, anthropomorphic feline; Liz Sklar as Sofie, a frustrated housefrau who’s suppressed her rage; and Seann Gallaher as Gregor, whose antipathy toward his wife and tomcat can’t be contained.

All four illustrate, through over-the-top antics skillfully directed by Mike Donahue, how skin deep our professed values are.

According to Jasson Minadakis, MTC artistic director, Silverman (who revels in her own queerness and characters that “are often outsiders of a kind, in ways both obvious and buried”) has said that “Wink” is about “the possibility of drastic transformation” — with the aim of deconstructing the roles society has demanded we play.

And in an interview with resident dramaturg Laura A. Brueckner, she admitted she admires other playwrights who “unapologetically present audiences with questions and conundrums.”

It should surprise no one, therefore, that each of her four characters in this play change. Radically.

But maybe that’s too much for some in the audience to absorb, to completely wrap their brains around.

It was for me.

Yet it wasn’t, obviously, for the judges who awarded her the 2018 Sky Cooper New American Play Prize.

“Wink” plays at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, through July 7. Night performances, 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; matinees, 1 p.m. Thursdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $25 to $70. Information: (415) 388-5208 or marintheatre.org.

Contact Woody Weingarten, a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, at www.vitalitypress.com/or voodee@sbcglobal.net.

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at www.vitalitypress.com/ or voodee@sbcglobal.net, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →