Pussy!

Acting, sequined panties shine in The Owl & the Pussycat

Photo by Jessica CalkinsEvery once in a while–every once in a very loooong while—love may be a many-splendored thing, but all too often it feels like a cruel trick played on humanity. This hormonal curse has fueled theatrical entertainment through the centuries—everything from Romeo and Juliet to Give 'Em Hell, Harry!—and it's always intriguing to see a playwright tackle the timeless, vexing theme by matching up two impossibly imperfect potential lovers.

Bill Manhoff's comedy The Owl & the Pussycat, currently staged by the Little Fish Theatre Company, has just two characters and the same number of acts, as well as a very simple plot. The human connection at the heart of the play has to beat strongly, loudly and rhythmically for the audience to care about what happens. That task takes two actors who are able to expand the small apartment walls of their setting while making the hopeless aspirations of their characters into something genuine. Fortunately, this production has two such actors, Edward Cohen and Marissa Manzanares, who are able to balance chemistry and comedy effortlessly.

When the metaphorically challenged writer Felix Sherman—the play's owl—is confronted by his prostitute neighbor and emotionally challenged counterpart, Doris—the pussy—he is forced to examine his own inner logic. Doris digs her way into Felix's left-brained life and tempts his inner animal with her mental vulnerability, not to mention sequin-studded panties. The gum-smacking Manzanares uses spoiled-little-girl manners and random outbursts of rock & roll songs to complement her "mad as hell" meets Lucille Ball temperament. Obviously affected by her stylized gestures (nose scrunches, tongue sticks and head nods combined), Cohen adds nervous stutters, profuse sweating and furrowed brows to the mix.

By the end of their numerous apartment interactions, Doris is inspired by the headstrong Felix to turn her life around and join "civilized" society as a receptionist. Felix, on the other hand, believes he's going crazy before he realizes that what he's actually tapped into with Doris is his own primal instincts. His inability to acknowledge his own emotions has led him aground and, in a fit of rage, he realizes his daytime job as a bookstore clerk may be all that he will ever amount to. By trading places, they discover that most modern of modern romance: codependence. It's a far more complex way for a story about contemporary love to end than the stale way most comedic love is portrayed today. Credit for that goes as much to Manzanares and Cohen's work—under the direction of Stacy Davies (who, in the interest of full disclosure, is OC Weekly's Calendar editor)—as to the script.

The Owl & the Pussycat at Little Fish Theatre Company, 777 Centre Court, San Pedro, (310) 512-6030. Thursday, June 5-Sat., June 7. 8 p.m. $10-$12.

 
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