Let's just get this out of the way: the Amazing Acro-Cats show, now at MuCCC through Sunday, August 11, is completely and utterly ridiculous. How could it not be? It's a dozen or so cats (plus two chickens, a trio of low-energy rats, and a woodchuck) performing a variety of stunts when and if they decide to do them. Because as any cat owner can tell you, cats will do as they please, when they please.
Samantha Martin, the woman behind the Acro-Cats, knows this, and she has constructed a charming hour-long show around the finicky nature of the animals she loves. It blends comedy, tricks, old-timey medicine-show salesmanship, education, and even a bit of music. So yes, it's all ridiculous, and among the most delightfully silly things I've ever seen. During the extended drum solo by Dakota, a member of the all-cat band The Rock Cats, I had to hold my head and wonder aloud, "How is any of this happening?"
Martin argues that most of the tricks performed during the Acro-Cats show can be done by any cat. All you need to do is train them. She even demonstrated the ease of clicker training by teaching one of the adorable, teeny kittens up for adoption in the MuCCC foyer (steel yourself for that mewling fur gauntlet, parents of young children) how to jump through a hoop in a matter of minutes. And it's not all fun and games; Martin argues that training your cats to return to their carriers at the sound of a whistle can save precious time during an emergency.
But you want to see Acro-Cats for the stunts, not the advocacy. It's important to go in not expecting too much -- even Martin opens the tricks portion of the show with a section she refers to as "the lowering of the audience's expectations." One cat zips by on a skateboard. One climbs a pole. A few jump through hoops. But others perform more astonishing feats. One cat jumped from stool to stool even as they were being raised above the heads of Martin and her helper. Three took to an obstacle-festooned balance beam, weaving in and out, and up and over one another. Two walked around perched on top of balls. You get the idea. (I recommend sitting as close to the front of the house as possible, as I totally missed some of the floor tricks from the third row back.)
The tricks don't always go off without a hitch, like young Alley's inability to consistently weave through Martin's legs as she walked. But even when the talent doesn't stick with the program, Martin plays it off for laughs.
Martin's attitude is one of the strongest facets of the show (second, of course, to the "Aww Factor"). Nothing sounds more dreadful than a self-serious trained-cat show, but Martin is totally aware of the gonzo nature of what she's doing. She makes jokes about the realities of being a single woman with bushels of cats (she declined to disclose just how many felines are in her care), and regaled the audience with information about each of the stars of her show. After an hour you really got a sense of the personalities of several of the animal performers, including my favorite, Tuna, the diva of the Acro-Cats. Tuna has Martin trained to give her a treat every time she rings a service bell, has starred as a killer cat in a film, and is currently engaged in a fierce Twitter war with co-star Buggles (follow her at @Tunathecat). Tuna does not like to be touched by anyone. As Martin put it, "Tuna is only pretty on the outside." Tuna is my new spirit animal.
Tuna is also the manager and cowbell player of The Rock Cats, the world's only all-cat rock band. The group also includes Nue on keys, Dakota on drums, Sookie on chimes, Oz on guitar (Oz is the first male cat to join the show, because Martin says they don't work as hard), and Gregory Peck the chicken on tambourine and cymbal. Their performance was a highlight of the show.
Aside from Oz, who could barely be bothered to strum his guitar, the rest of the animals were engaged with their instruments. I don't think Nue ever stopped playing. After feeling sufficiently praised by the audience for her beauty (I'm serious!), Dakota got behind the drum kit. Both Tuna and Gregory Peck kept the beat consistently, until Gregory got bored and hopped off his stool for a while.
The band played two songs and then the show ended. Was it just a bunch of animals pawing at tiny instruments for treats? Yes. But it was hilarious to watch. Besides, the minute cats and a chicken figure out how to play "Musetta's Waltz," I am out of here. They've already figured out how to get us to feed them, shelter them, and clean up their messes. Who is the owner and who is the pet?
The Amazing Acro-Cats show continues at MuCCC (142 Atlantic Avenue) through Sunday, August 11. Show times are at 7 p.m. through Friday, August 9, and then at 1, 4, and 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, August 10-11. Tickets cost $13-$18. For more information check circuscats.com or muccc.org.