Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble telling of the enchanting story of a couple’s relationship and the cartoons that chronicled their time together.
The Gray Cat and the Flounder tells the true 46-year love story of a couple from Pittsburgh. Bernadette Gabrielle Callery, who is portrayed as the Gray Cat in the cartoons, was a librarian at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Her husband Joseph Newcomer, who is drawn as the Flounder, is a software innovator who holds several patents. They met on a blind date and the relationship blossomed. Throughout, he drew nearly 4000 delightful cartoons that chronicled their life together. They were longtime patrons of Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. When Bernadette passed away in 2012 from ovarian cancer, Joseph commissioned the ensemble to create this work in her memory.
The charming work presents snapshots from the couple’s life together, both real and imaginary, illustrated by original music, dialogue, some of the actual cartoons, animation, shadow theatre, projection and puppetry. Special technology of the use of a binaural microphone picks up all of the instruments and sounds on stage in a unique way, providing sound clarity that creates a sense of intimacy for the audience with the performers.
The dialogue is sweet, poignant, and funny, with silly feline puns like “cat-egorize” and “purr-fect”. The opening and closing pieces are songs by old-time American folk composer Stephen Foster, whose tunes were a favourite of Bernadette’s. Sometimes the story is sung, sometimes told in poetry, and sometimes simply narrated. It is well-paced, engaging the audience from beginning to end, taking full advantage of the large stage as well as aisleways in the audience. It pulls at our heartstrings, brings us to laughter and to tears. The cartoons are simple, yet tell a story. How improbable that an “exceedingly clever” gray cat and a flounder would be friends, but it works because they each manage within their abilities and limitations, and they help each other along the way. There are some playful moments in the cartoons, and some tender moments. My favourite was when the cat picked a flower and put it on the flounder. Some of the cartoons are still shots and others are animated. The drawings are simple, one-dimensional, but they work because the story is strong and the drawings give life to the story.
The piece is written by Kevin Noe, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, and the Director of Orchestras, Musique 21, and Professor of Conducting at Michigan State University. and Kieren MacMillan, internationally-renowned composer and arranger. A talented cast handily brings the story to life. Singer Lindsay Kesselman portrays the Gray Cat with a gentle spirit and lovely singing voice. Kevin Noe as the Flounder captures essence of the spirited fish. Narrator Jeffrey Nytch introduces the audience to the concept of the music in the headphones, then effectively guides us through the story. The storytellers are beautifully accompanied by the superb musicians of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble: flutist Lindsey Goodman; clarinetist Eric Jacobs; violinist Nathalie Shaw; cellist Norbert Lewandowski; pianist Oscar Micaelsson; and percussionist Ian Rosenbaum. The sound design by Nicholas Drashner and lighting by Andrew Ostrowski add dramatic elements that help create an effective stage presentation.
This show will appeal to all ages, but is recommended for age 8 plus.