The Electric Commentary

Sunday, February 25, 2007

What The Hell Is "Cats" About?

I write this post not for entertainment, or out of any sense of pride. Quite the contrary actually. However, I am in a unique position in the I have seen "Cats" multiple times, I have a critical eye, and I know that many of you will be dragged to a showing in the near future. An odd quirk of my brain is that it memorizes musicals and operas the first time it encounters them. For the record, my favorite bit of musical theatre is Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore. See, I told you this would be a nerdy week.

Anyway, here's "Cats" in a nutshell.

It is very religious. The characters in "Cats" are described as "Jellicle Cats." This is "T.S. Eliot shorthand" for evangelical Christians. They begin the play waiting to be saved through "Old Deuteronomy." Every year OD picks one cat to send to heaven and be reborn. This is the obligatory Christ-like moment of the play which we will get to later. OD represents old testament law, which is obvious as he is named after one of the books. While the Cats represent real Cat traits, they also represent human foibles, and each foible is, in the course of the play, judged for worthiness.

The Rum Tum Tugger is concerned only with play and worldly matters. The Gumby Cat is a somewhat heartless entrepreneur, lazy in her downtime. Gus was a famous actor content with his past success (Note: It is the official opinion of the EC that Gus, and not Grizabella, should have won.), and Mongojerry and Rumpleteazer are outright criminals.

Grizabella, a former hotshot "glamor cat," now fallen into a decrepit, homeless state, eventually wins the prize. She has fallen the farthest, the walking embodiment of the meek inheriting the earth.

The most interesting part of the play, however, concerns the kidnapping of Old Deuteronomy by Macavity, the embodiment of evil. His influence is felt everywhere in the cat world although Macavity himself is never seen at any crime:


And when the larder's looted
Or the jewel cases rifled
Or when the milk is missing
Or another Peke's been stifled
Or the greenhouse glass is broken and the trellis past repair
There's the wonder of the thing:
Macavity's not there!


And here we find some satire from Eliot. Macavity is the all purpose bad guy for the Cats, yet there is no evidence that he is actually responsible for any misdeeds. On stage we see him kidnap Old Deuteronomy, but this is odd. Macavity is not supposed to expose himself like this. He is meant as an allegory of the Devil's influence, which is subtle. The only thing that makes this excusable is that such a prize as OD is at stake.

His rescue however, is confusing as well. The savior of Cats is Mr. Mistoffelees, clearly a play on the name of the demon Mephistopheles. How can the savior be saved captured by the devil but also freed by him?

This is simply an allegory for "Paradise Lost." Satan costs man paradise, but he also frees him and grants him the opportunity for superior gain through the "benevolent fall." Redemption allows for a richer, if riskier life than does paradise, and once Mr. Mistoffelees returns Deuteronomy, the evangelical cats can be saved again. Mr. Mistoffelees also sacrifices nothing to return Deuteronomy, which is Old Testament law. Remember that only one cat may be saved, and the Christian doctrine holds that salvation through Old Testament means is nearly impossible. The Cats are still awaiting their true savior.

It is worth mentioning here that T.S. Eliot was also wasted most of the time.

Anyway, if you happen to find yourself at "Cats" for whatever reason, now you will have some idea as to what is going on.

I told you. Nerdy week.

5 Comments:

  • This morning I woke up and realized that I loved Cats! as a child, I have no idea what the fuck cat's is about. So I googled, what the fuck is cats about and this article came up and I just had to say thank you. This was perfect and hilarious.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:43 AM  

  • Wow I also just googled "what the fuck is Cats about" and found this.
    Just saw it on broadway for the first time and loved it but probably walked away with 5% understanding of what I had seen

    By Blogger Andy Lasnik, at 11:22 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Saud AlSubaie, at 7:55 AM  

  • I googled what the hell is cats about, but I used voice input and have children nearby, else I'd be in the fuck camp

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:56 AM  

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    By Blogger Jon, at 10:20 PM  

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