Review: ‘Catfish Moon’ is dim to the end

David Pollack, Collin Beck and Joseph Watson star in Appalachian Creative Theatre’s “Catfish Moon” at UpStage.
David Pollack, Collin Beck and Joseph Watson star in Appalachian Creative Theatre’s “Catfish Moon” at UpStage. Courtesy of Appalachian Creative Theatre

Laddy Sartin’s “Catfish Moon” is as hokey as “Hee Haw” and as sentimental as a high school reunion. The setting is a piece of lakefront property in the Southern United States, presumably in the 1990s. (Charlotte Repertory Theatre hosted the world premiere in 1996. ) Both acts are set on a wooden pier – perfect for a shoestring budget.

Appalachian Creative Theatre has swung the pendulum from its last edgy production of “Closer” to this harmless comedy. The plot has dramatic potential that is never realized, due to a script so lacking in linguistic color that even a valiant quartet of actors can’t overcome the banality of the dialogue.

Collin Beck plays Curley, a big-hearted man who is old enough to realize he is getting old. He’s tired of the rat race and contemplates buying a piece of lakefront property where he and his buddies spent large chunks of their youth. The buddies are Frog and Gordon; Frog is divorced from Curley’s sister Betty, and Gordon’s rumored to be dating her. When revealed, this causes tension, which Curley hopes to erase by inviting his pals on a fishing trip.

That’s the plot. But since Frog and Betty are already divorced for good reason, it’s as flimsy as a paper kite in a summer storm. Absent intrigue, the other opportunity for entertainment would be engaging dialogue. Unfortunately, the script is packed with gems such as “One day we were skipping school; next thing you know, here we are.” Or “You’re way ahead of me, traveling at the speed of light.” Or “There’s the Big Dipper. It’s so bright.”

Director Caitlin Cashman takes advantage of the small space by encouraging any opportunity for slapstick. Joseph Watson’s Frog is an appealing over-reactor whose exaggerated responses are good for a laugh. David Pollack’s Gordon is an uncomplicated man who wants to love and drink what he probably shouldn’t, but his 21st-century hipster haircut on a 1990s Southern country man is a distraction.

Amy Hillard’s Betty has an “aw shucks” demeanor with a touch of feistiness that almost becomes interesting, until the script reins her back. Collin Beck’s Curley scores high on the huggability scale. His wide emotional range makes the play cohere.

UpStage remains a fun place to see a play, and the cocktail menu reflects key components of whatever production is featured. In the case of “Catfish Moon,” drinks are named “Bowling Partners” (a shot of whiskey and a domestic longneck) and “Something’s Burning” (sloe gin, Mezcal and Campari).

This unfussy production held appeal for some. The woman to my left giggled her way through the whole thing and even succumbed to a few tears. Perhaps there are two kinds of people: those who enjoy fishing, and those who don’t.

‘Catfish Moon’

WHEN: Through Aug. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday.

WHERE: UpStage, 3306-C N. Davidson St.

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes.

TICKETS: $12 in advance, $15 at door.

DETAILS: 704-430-4821, upstagenoda.com.