Theater: Life unfolds under a ‘Catfish Moon’

Actor’s Choice Theatre presents a Laddy Sartin classic

‘Catfish Moon’
An Actor’s Choice Theater’s production. Directed by Michael J. Drury. Continues through June 2 at the Henry Clay Theatre, 604 S. Third St. For tickets or more info, call 495-8358.

Once upon a time, three friends grew up on and around an old fishing pier in the South. They swam and skinny-dipped, drank beer and fished, and romanced a girl or two. Laddy Sartin’s slight drama “Catfish Moon,” which opened last week in an Actor’s Choice Theater production at the Henry Clay Theatre, is set years later when the simple six packs of youth have given way to the complicated baggage of middle age.

Nowadays, Gordon (Daniel Main) has a drinking problem. Frog (Tony Prince) has an impulse-control problem and a penchant for destroying pretty much everything he touches. And Curley (Tim Kitchen), the most mature of the three, has a few fires to put out: It seems Gordon has been keeping company with Frog’s estranged wife. And as Frog puts it, “A wise monkey never monkeys with another monkey’s monkey.” Further complicating things, it turns out that the “other monkey’s monkey” happens to be none other than Curley’s little sister Betty (Teresa Willis).

It falls to Curley to somehow restore order to all these relationships — and with some prodding from Betty, he realizes that nothing brings folks together like hooking into a big old bass, so he organizes a fishing trip.

In an interview, Sartin once described the origins of his writing style as “dirt poetry — real primitive folk poetry,” and his script does flash brightly from time to time (as when Curley gets excited about seeing a falling star reflected in the still waters off the pier). More often, Sartin sticks to commonplace language and broad humor (much is made of the fact that Gordon seeks romantic advice from a horoscope hotline).

And though the script suffers from a surfeit of repetition (Gordon’s yearning for a drink isn’t really the stuff of drama), some playgoers will find comfort in Sartin’s earnest compassion for his characters.

Director Michael J. Drury (well-known to Louisville audiences as artistic director of Pandora Productions) elicits sympathetic portrayals from his cast. Main brings a suitably glazed, love-struck urgency to his portrayal of Gordon. Prince’s furious croak has all the deep resonance that Frog’s nickname implies. Willis’ Betty is as sly and fiery as a Southern belle can be — especially when challenging male presumption. As Curley, Kitchen has a reassuring presence that’s calm as a Southern summer evening.

And though constrained by the setting — all the action takes place on Karl Anderson’s finely designed wooden pier, which nearly deserves billing as the play’s fifth character — there’s still a fair amount of action, including a finely staged fishing scene that plays out under a full moon (lighting by Theresa Bagan). And if you close your eyes, Laura Ellis’ sound design will have you thinking you’ve plopped yourself down amongst the whistles and chirps of a bayou in the night. And somewhere nearby, a fisherman’s lure is plopping into the water.