You should know that in spite of its provocative title, Mad Cat Theatre’s play “Blow Me” is really about fashion muse and style provocateur Isabella Blow.
Opening Friday (Aug. 16) and running through Sept. 1 at the SandBox at Miami Theater Center, the show was expanded from a one-act play called “Charming Acts of Misery” that playwright Jessica Farr debuted at the 2013 South Beach Comedy Festival.
“It was 42 pages, very brief,” says Farr, a Miami native and Mad Cat company member. “There were lots of laughs…and I think that is important to tell the story, which shouldn’t be bogged down with tragedy and failure and let-down. But there was more to explore and I just thought we could go deeper.”
Blow’s life can easily carry deeper exploration. The idiosyncratic Brit – who started out as Anna Wintour’s and then Andre Leon Talley’s assistant – ushered milliner Philip Treacy and late fashion designer Alexander McQueen to the forefront of fashion in the ’90s. Along the way she discovered models Sophie Dahl and Stella Tennant, and became friends with Andy Warhol, Bryan Ferry, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Steven Meisel. Lady Gaga gives her props for inspiring the singer’s surreal style.
“I’ve always been a fashion bug,” says director Paul Tei, founder and artistic director of Mad Cat. “The script goes all over the place. It’s dream-like. Things and people pop in and out. [Farr] keeps saying it’s like ‘Slaughterhouse Five,’ Fellini’s ‘8 1/2’ and [Bob Dylan bio film] ‘I’m Not There’ in its quality.”
But Blow also had bipolar disorder and attempted suicide a reported seven times before succeeding in 2007, at the age of 48, by allegedly drinking weedkiller at a weekend party at Hilles House, her second husband’s storied family home.
“Her life is so much,” adds Farr. “The stories don’t stop. It’s a dream play in retrospect…a person at the apex of their life and then everything is falling apart and they find great clarity in the chaos. They wake up and discover something about themselves. It’s like an awakening.
“Unfortunately for Isabella in this play it is in the end of her life. I was listening to Radiolab on NPR about all these people who jump off of the Golden Gate Bridge. These people described that it wasn’t their lives flashing before their eyes. It wasn’t one distinct memory. It was, ‘Why did I do this? This is happening. I wish I hadn’t done it.’ Even at the end you’re fighting for life. So [in ‘Blow Me’] it’s like the ghosts of Christmas past, if you will, helping her to illuminate her story.”
Farr is also, in a way, giving Blow something she desperately wanted.
“God bless her, she wanted to be an actress,” she explains. “Have you seen Wes Anderson’s ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou?’ She had those two lines. It was her only role. So she went up to Bill Murray, who is the star of the movie, and she was worried about these two lines. She asks him, ‘Have you ever done this sort of thing before?’ That’s why she was cast; she was a genius. She’s an inspiration. She’s always looking to make a connection that she was not allowed to have with her family. She elevated her life to where nothing is simple and regular life doesn’t interest her.”
“Blow Me” is the first production by Mad Cat in its new home at Miami Theater Center, previously known as the Playground Theatre (with a reputation for children’s theatrical fare). Previously the 13-year-old company staged shows at Miami Light Project in downtown Miami, moving with the performing arts space to the Wynwood Arts District in 2011.
“So far it’s been amazing,” says Tei. “It all happened just so fast and so easily. On Biscayne Boulevard [where Miami Light Project started] there was a lot of noise outside; traffic and cop cars. I would have to buy the homeless people a beer or give them a couple of bucks and say, ‘Give me two hours and come back later.’ Being in a small space again is great. It’s very quiet and very intimate.”
If You Go
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. (Aug. 16 opening night reception starts at 7 p.m.)
Where: SandBox at Miami Theater Center, 9816 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores
Cost: $30 general admission and $15 for students with valid ID. (Aug. 16 opening night is $50)
Contact: 866-811-4111 or MadCatTheatre.org.