The description for the interactive theater show The Stray is minimal but specific. "Congratulations! You are a cat," it begins. "Bask in the sun. Fulfill the tenets of your divine covenant with humans. Knock things off shelves." Technically, this functions as both a description and instructions for the audience. The play, also described as an "intercative expurrience," is a work by improvisational and experimental theater company Uncumber Theatrics that runs from May 9-26.
Audience members will assume the role of cats in a "cat lady" house. They can talk only to other cats. They'll be lured by a piece of string. There will be human-sized cat toys and even cat treats. "No one's crawling on the floor, unless somebody wants to crawl on the floor. We're not gonna stop anybody," says Ayne Terceira, creative director of Uncumber Theatrics.
While the piece relies more on concept and improv than a script, it follows a specific story of loneliness and the intimacies of human-animal connections. It centers around the aforementioned cat lady, a recluse and a former artist who needs help from her cats.
"Essentially, we're taking the trope of the cat lady and trying to make the cats of the house a little more responsible for her life," says Terceira. She conceived the show after going through the process of putting her mother in a home. "The piece touches on things like dementia and who we are without our memories, and how can we go about retaining who we are without essential portions of ourselves."
The piece will be staged in a real house in Lawrenceville, though the exact location is hidden until you buy a ticket. There are around three actors and several audience members for each show. Terceira says Uncumber's audience usually comes "ready to play," but for those who are less sure, the first part of the show gives the audience some training on how to interact with the show.
Uncumber has been around since 2013, creating one or two shows a year in specific cycles, or "books." The Stray falls into the book "The Lamentations," a series that explores the "small sufferings of people."
"This show also kind of deals with a small, invisible sufferer: the cat lady in the house that you're never gonna visit because they're too strange and too bizarre to really get involved in," says Terceira. "I really wanted to get into why a person recedes from society, what's happening, and why do we create such strong attachments to animals when society has failed us in some way to create those same attachments."
The Stray. Times vary. May 9-26. Lawrenceville. $35. www.uncumbertheatrics.com