The Owl & The Pussycat
by Bill Manhoff
26 May - 4 June 2016
In a San Francisco loft, aspiring author Felix focuses his binoculars on a prostitute plying her trade. He complains to the landlord, has her evicted, and finds he has trouble pounding on his door in the form of Doris, not a prostitute but an aspiring 'model and actress', thank you very much. She figures he owes her a bed for the night, an arrangement that leads to hilarity. Alan Alda and Diana Sands took the roles on Broadway, George Segal and Barbra Streisand on film.
Jenny Kingman’s truly excellent set, depicting the living area and kitchenette of an apartment in San Francisco in the mid-60s, provided the perfect background for the cast of this two-hander to play cat and mouse with each other’s emotions.
Complete with its window view, which included the apartment block opposite, the backdrop certainly enhanced the action.
Playing complete opposites, Peter Calver was Felix, the gentle tidy clerk in a bookstore and Marianna Kydonieos was the flare-tempered Doris, who stormed through the play seesawing between anger and enticement.
Both characters were word perfect, both had got well under the skin of their roles and reacted naturally to each other as they surmounted the highs and lows of the story.
Trouble starts when Doris hollers and bangs on Felix’s front door, accusing him, rightly as it happens, of getting her thrown out of her room. He did report her ‘entertainment’ of gentlemen callers, spied with his binoculars from his window into hers, and the landlord evicted her.
At 2am in the morning, where else could she go but to the apartment rented by the cause of her homelessness?
Playwright Bill Manhoff brings out many human flaws and fascinations in the script. There is shouting, lying, encouragement, deceit, generosity and, although they fight against it, there is love – albeit it takes them the whole play to realise it.
Peter Calver’s Felix initially makes believable the accusation by his uninvited house guest of being gay. Either her wiles or his uncertainty prove he is no such thing, providing real comedy as, under her instruction, he reluctantly drags the blanket he provided for her bed on the sofa, towards his bedroom, where she is now to sleep. The blanket is long and he pulls it towards the bedroom like a small child reluctant to obey a command.
Marianna Kydonieos is fiery, feisty and feminine by turns, making Doris the stronger of the pair when it comes to romantic experience, but the certain underdog where intellect is concerned. Shades of Pygmalion and Educating Rita enhance the tale as Felix tries to improve Doris’s vocabulary through reading, setting her dictionary tasks she is reluctant to take.
The ups and downs, furore and calm take turns to bring the pair to realise that, given honesty rather than boasting, acceptance rather than one-upmanship, they could become a happy couple, but the ending is the weakest part of the play with its abrupt conclusion.
With performances from two very talented actors it must have been a joy for director Suzi Whittle to shape the play, which she did with much skill, and thus this trio provided a very entertaining and unusual play and a great evening at the theatre.