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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

It's the Cats' Meows: Feline Thespians Back

Russia's feline stars will soon be back on the boards. After two years under reconstruction, Yury Kuklachev's "Cat House" will open to the public on March 8.

"Moscow is waiting for us. We have been gone for so long, and our audience has missed us terribly," says Kuklachev.

The idea of notoriously untrainable domestic cats on stage may strike some as bizarre. But Kuklachev's nearly 100 artists -- from luxurious Persians to ordinary tabbies -- perform wonders. They run, jump, even push baby carriages -- on command. Actually, more on suggestion.

"You can never force a cat to do anything he does not want to," explains the master cat trainer. "The trick is to find out what he wants to do, and work that into the show."

Kuklachev is a small, irrepressible man whose training as a circus clown shows in every word he utters. He was forced out from the big top five years ago, in what he says now was simply a staff reduction. But friends hint that he had severe conflicts with the management.

"Yury is very independent," said Zoya Molokova, a longtime Kuklachev admirer. "He is very hard to control."

Kuklachev says that the loss of his job was devastating. "But my wife said, 'Let's get to work.'"

So Kuklachev took his beloved cats and began performing independently.

"That's when I realized how much we were worth," he laughs. "I was making hundreds of times more money in the theaters than I had been in the circus."

Kuklachev needed a place of his own, and petitioned the Moscow City Council for a theater. "They told me I could have any movie theater in town," he says. He chose his current abode, at 25 Kutuzovsky Prospekt, because it was small -- 300 seats -- warm, and easily accessible.

Then began the search for money to refurbish and run the theater. Kuklachev was adamant about not renting space to exchange banks or other commercial endeavors.

"This is a place for children," he says. "What would a bank do here? It would spoil the atmosphere."

So he took his case to the Finance Ministry, which lent an amazingly sympathetic ear. "They asked how much I needed. I said, 100 million rubles (now about $23,000). They said 'Why so little? Take 250.'"

The theater has now been completely renovated, and is ready for its first audiences of cat lovers. The show on March 8 will be a special free performance for those who have helped with the work on the theater, and for mothers with large families.

In addition to his successful Moscow career, Kuklachev has had numerous offers from abroad. About three years ago he spent several months in England.

"They have a quarantine there. I couldn't bring my cats. But I had signed a contract to put on a show. What was I going to do?"

Kuklachev pauses, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "We thought we would just pick up homeless ones on the street in London. But a lawyer told us we could get shot for stealing cats."

In despair, Kuklachev decided to try and trap wild cats in the woods.

"It wasn't hard. We got all we needed in a few hours. But these cats were beasts! It was almost impossible to work with them."

Nevertheless Kuklachev and his veterinarian, Nikolai Loginov, soon got the brood under control, and in two months they were ready for the stage.

"We amazed all of England," he says modestly. "They said, 'only Russians could do such a thing.'"

The problems came when it was time to go home. "We were going to sell the cats," he recalls. "But my wife said, 'You're going to sell Musik? What about Vasya?' In the end, we took them all with us -- all 19."

The immigrants adapted well, especially Musik.

"We came in one morning and he was lying in his cage looking exhausted," laughs Kuklachev. "We did not know what the trouble was, and then, three months later, eight of our females gave birth simultaneously. Our doctor was going crazy."

England was fine, says Kuklachev. But it was "chuzhoye" [alien]. "I couldn't wait to come home."

Kuklachev's affection for his cats runs deep. He choked back tears as he told of a favorite of his, Romashka ("Daisy"), who died after an operation for cancer.

"Cats are my best friends, my truest friends," he sighs. "And they can always tell about people. I once had a friend, a close one. He would come to visit, but my cat couldn't stand him. She would always do a 'number one' on his shoe." He pauses, and laughs. "It turned out my cat was right. When I realized what a traitor this guy was, I was sorry she hadn't done a 'number two.'"

Kuklachev and his cats will resume their performances on Friday, March 10, and continue on each Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through the end of the month. On the weekdays, there is one performance at 4 p.m.; on Saturdays, shows are at 11 a.m. and at 2 p.m.; while on Sundays three performances are given -- at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. The theater is located at 25 Kutuzovsky Prospekt. Tel. 249-2907. Nearest metro: Kutuzovskaya.