Le Chat Noir (French for "The Black Cat") was a Parisian cabaret that opened in 1881 and hosted the era's cutting-edge poets, singers, dancers, and artists. The Edgemar Center, for a few weekends, is attempting to resurrect that cultural nightspot, at least in spirit. Although the concept is worthy of applause, as are a few performers in this extensive cast, the script—what little there is of it—is confusing and uninteresting, Deborah LaVine's direction is too loose, and most of the speaking cast is uneven at best.
There isn't a plot, except that it's a wild night at the 19th century cabaret, though many of the "celebrities" in attendance were not alive when The Black Cat opened. Instead it's as if the café is a time machine, and controversial or edgy artists born within a few decades of 1881 are welcome. The master of ceremonies is Monsieur Maitre D' (Geoffrey Dwyer), who speaks in risqué rhyme. He introduces more than 30 acts, which include two fine renditions of Edith Piaf songs by Marianne Ferrari, a hypnotic belly dance performed by Lejla Hadzimuratovic, and a sexy trio tango danced by Freddy Douglas, Tessa Munro, and Sophia Marzocchi. But the evening is bogged down in a series of lengthy, uninteresting conversations between Germaine de Stael and Benjamin Constant (Michelle Danner and Douglas), a few unfunny comic bits, and weak poetry.
The few pure acting segments are unpleasant. Dwyer is too over-the-top, even for his outrageous character. Danner takes the prize for worst French accent, no small feat in this group. She and Douglas lack chemistry and charisma as de Stael and Constant. Also, Bob Jesser and Raquel Brussolo, in a scene in which a soldier says goodbye to his girl before going off to war, are flat and unromantic. The major fault lies with the concept itself. Nothing is done to explain the mishmash of characters from various time periods, or the use of modern songs. With a bit of sensible plotting and a lot of editing, this could be a successful and atmospheric living-art installation. As it currently stands, The Night of the Black Cat is a two-hour amateur variety show.
"The Night of the Black Cat," presented by and at Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. Fri.-Sat. 7:30 p.m. (Also Mon. Feb. 14, 8 p.m.) Feb. 17-Mar. 26. $18.50-22.50. (310) 392-7327.