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PerformanceOnstagePlaying a skinned cat: John William Watkins of MTC's...

Playing a skinned cat: John William Watkins of MTC’s ‘Wink’

The actor stalks and preens his way through playwright Jen Silverman's absurdist tale, featuring a very expressive pet.

ONSTAGE  John Williams Watkins, who plays the title role of the cat, Wink, in the play premiering at the Marin Theatre Company (through July 7), knows the playwright Jen Silverman from when they were both at the University of Iowa, getting MFAs. A couple years ago, Watkins auditioned to be in another play of Silverman’s, The Moors, directed by Mike Donahue (who also directs Wink.) Watkins didn’t get that role, but he got called back for Wink and scored it. Watkins says he loves Silverman’s work. 

“It’s exciting. It’s dark. It’s poetic. It’s quirky,” he said. “I would do anything Jen asked me to do.” 

In the play, an unhappy couple, Gregor (Seann Gallagher) and Sofie (Liz Skylar), are wondering where their cat is. Well, Gregor isn’t worrying because he knows—he skinned him. And now he’s keeping the fur in a box. Separately the two go see a therapist, Doctor Frans (Kevin Free), who gives them consistently terrible advice, mostly involving shoving their feelings down. Then Wink shows up, stalking around, making himself at home, and preening, as cats do. The cat could have been just used as a prop, Watkins says, but instead he’s given his own arc. 

Sofie (Liz Sklar) and Wink (John William Watkins).
Photo by Kevin Berne

“It’s just crazy fun,” he said. “The doctor and Sofie and Gregor have all spent so many years learning to live in a small way and to take up as little space as possible, and then this cat comes in and he’s the total opposite. And then Kevin Free—it’s just so wonderful to play in scenes with him.”

Silverman is prolific. Along with The Moors, about two sisters and their dog living on the English moors and dreaming of love and power, her plays include The Roommate, about “two badass women in their 50s,” and Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties; in essence, a queer and occasionally hazardous exploration; do you remember when you were in Middle School and you read about Shackleton and how he explored the Antarctic?; imagine the Antarctic as a Pussy and it’s sort of like that. She’s also written a novel and a book of short stories, and she writes for TV, including working on the new Tales of the City. Her work has been described as “unashamedly queer.” 

Dr. Frans (Kevin R. Free) and Wink (John William Watkins). Photo by Kevin Berne

Asked if Wink is queer, Watkins says for a lot of people, queer means gay. But he thinks there’s more to it. 

“I think it means radicalism in a way, maybe not living inside the norms and seeing life the way you see life, and not letting cultural or societal norms influence that,” he said. “It’s about being a radical. Being an anarchist and blowing the top off the roof and looking at life in a critical way and being open to its many possibilities.”

In Wink, all the characters undergo a transformation. It’s an absurdist play with a lot to say about how society compartmentalizes us, Watkins says. 

“It can be good to live in harmony with social norms, but the downside is we do that to the point of pain and suffering,” he said. “The play asks what is the balance of limiting or putting a firm hand on our animalistic impulses but also a loose enough grip so we can feel and realize desires and express them in a healthy way and live an honest life.”

Through July 7
Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley
For tickets and more information 

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