There's a big old moon tonight—yellow and dripping down color on the moss. There are some shooting stars and a few stray bolts of lightning. Old timers would tell you it's the perfect night for catfish. The horoscope hotline would tell you it's the perfect night for romance. And then there's Frog, who would tell you it's the perfect night to beat your (former) best buddy to a pulp. Director Francis Kuhn gives you a little of all three in Warehouse Theatre's production of “Catfish Moon.”
It was Curley's idea, so you can blame him. He organized this reunion of sorts, calling up old buddies and trying to patch things up. He's always been the big brother, the umpire, taking care of everybody, even getting them all baptized at the tender age of ten. He's an all-around good guy, and actor Will Ragland succeeds in catching his startling mix of fun and gruff tenderness. Unfortunately for him, Curley may have bitten off more than he can chew this time: Frog and Gordon are fighting for keeps.
It's about a woman (what else?) It's about Betty, the only female in the cast, and a welcome relief from all that testosterone. Erin Smith makes a refreshing small-town girl—a woman who speaks her mind without tromping over the people around her. Very much unlike Frog. Jason Johnson serves up such a believable spit-fire performance as this red-neck extraordinaire that I swear I went to school with this guy. And while I'm glad I never dated (or married!) Frog, I was more than thrilled to spend a couple hours in his company. You will be too—Johnson is an absolute delight on the stage, especially when he's coming after Gordon, the lovable, emotional, somewhat off-balance suitor played by Elvin Clark. He's as tender as Frog is feisty, and it takes a serious blow to bring them all together again.
And therein lies my minor quibble with the production. Sartin's plot is a bit predictable, the conflict and its resolution coming too easily in spots. But this contempt bred of familiarity is quickly won over by Sartin's genius for southern dialog—always fresh and funny, never cliché. It's a script whose cadence surprises, if not its plot. And there's one last treat in store, too: Shannon Roberts has created a surprisingly emotive set for this reunion of middle aged friends. Her decrepit pier shows its age every bit as well as these old pals with their failing health, love lives, addictions, and deeply personal feuds. But like any trusty friend, or pier, everything's still standing at the end, ready for more fishing, more fighting, and maybe, just maybe, a little bit more loving.
Laddy Sartin's “Catfish Moon,” directed by Francis X. Kuhn.
Presented by The Warehouse Theatre, 37 Augusta St., Greenville (864) 235-6948. Through September 19. Tickets $25. Students $15.