REVIEW: “The Owl and the Pussycat” by Bill Manhoff. Directed by Clifford Graham for the Claremont Dramatic Society. At the Masque Theatre, Muizenberg, 22 February – 2 March.

REVIEWER: Ruth Allsopp

AIRTIME: 3:30

 

Some listeners may remember the film “The Owl and the Pussycat” of 1970, starring Barbra Streisand and George Segal. The 1964 two-hander play by Bill Manhoff, upon which the movie was based, is on at the Masque Theatre, Muizenberg, directed by Clifford Graham for the Claremont Dramatic Society.

The Owl of the title is Felix Sherman – a slightly pompous, self-righteous young man, approaching 30, who works in a bookstore in San Francisco and lives in a sparsely-furnished apartment. He is a would-be author and watches ‘life’ through his window, using a pair of binoculars. This role is taken by Sheldon Cross.

The Pussycat is Doris Wilgus, a loud, southern girl, who calls herself a model, but is really a prostitute. She is sharp and basically intelligent, but her potential has not been realised. She is played by Jana Botha.

Felix reports the comings and goings of men to and from Doris’s room in a nearby building to her landlord who flings her out in the middle of the night. In a rage, she arrives at Felix’s apartment, with suitcase, portable TV set and radio. The action continues from there.

Director Clifford Graham has chosen to set the comedy in the present time with cell phones, a microwave and a laptop. However, the situation and language would have been more shocking and titillating in 1964 when the play was first staged. Lacking this stronger audience reaction today, nearly 50 years later, Act 1 unfortunately became, for me, rather tedious. The dialogue seemed mainly to be on one note – loud and aggressive – and the characters did not really engage my interest or empathy.

In Acts 2 and 3 the playwright varied his tone and added depth to the characters and some playfulness to the dialogue. This allowed the actors to show their true mettle.

Sheldon Cross successfully conveyed both Sherman’s smug side and his insecurities. His telephone call to his boss in Act 2 was a delight. Jana Botha, sustaining a convincing southern accent, was brash, yet vulnerable. She swept in like a force of nature in her outrageous mini-skirted dress, and in later scenes expressed a range of moods – skittishness, sexiness, outrage, and pathos – and a sharp common-sense. The contrast between Doris and Felix was well handled and the sympathy of the audience evoked.

The set with its view of a San Francisco skyscraper in the distance was totally appropriate; praise here for designer Clifford Graham and consultant Penelope Youngleson. Wendy Thompson expertly handled Gary Fargher’s lighting and Graham’s sound design. The inter-scene music was of the 1960s era – the period of the play’s first Broadway production.

Director Graham kept a good pace going and was well served by his highly competent actors. The first night audience was warm in its response at the close of the play.

“The Owl and the Pussycat” by Bill Manhoff runs at the Masque Theatre, Muizenberg, until Saturday 2 March; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2:30 pm and 6:30 pm. Book through Masque Theatre Bookings.

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The Owl and the Pussycat

deur Bill Manhoff

Met Jana Botha en Sheldon Cross

Regie: Clifford Graham

Claremont Dramatic Society in The Masque Theatre, Hoofweg, Muizenberg tot 2 Maart. Plekbespreking: 021 7881898.

Deur Danie Botha

 

Hotelle, restaurante, allerlei diensleweraars laat ‘n mens mos vraelysies invul en hoop  op goedkeuring. As ek nou een oor hierdie opvoering moes invul, sou dit die ene regmerkies wees onder “goed” en selfs ‘n paar onder “voortreflik”.

As ‘n mens in die reklame sien dis net twee karakters, raak jy effentjies huiwerig om al die pad, sê nou maar,  van Welgelegen aan te pak. Sê nou hulle speel vreeslik eenselwig? Hoe gou gaan verveling jou oorval?

Ter voorbereiding het ek op die Internet gekuier en opnames gekyk van verskeie ander opvoerings. O wee! Dis ‘n wilde geskreeu op mekaar! Hoe lank verduur ‘n mens sulke gevegte tussen ‘n edele jong man en ‘n uitgesproke jong dame wat ‘n vreeslike ou beroep beoefen?

Kom, laat Jana Botha ons gerusstel in die netjiese program (regmerkie vir June Edwards as programontwerper en Ariane Questiaux as fotograaf). Sy skryf soos volg: “Playing the role of Doris has been an emotional roller coaster. She is constantly  changing from tough and street-smart  to needy and sweet. She is proud and neurotic. She is quick to anger but also  quick to forgive.” In haar en Sheldon Cross (Felix) se spel kry  ’n mens deurgaans dan die elemente van goeie toneelspel: duidelike spraak, pouserings, botsings en kalmerings, duidelike lyftaal,  afwisseling, verrassings. Botha bemeester die moelike tegniek om oortuigend te hik. Hoe netjies plaas regisseur Clifford Graham nie beklemtonings nie, hoe finaal maak hy die einde van ‘n bedryf of toneel nie. Byvoorbeeld die afstap van Felix terwyl hy ‘n naam inkanteer. Alles regmerke, mense!

Eers loer Felix Doris  en haar kliënte af, maar dan vind hy dit nodig om haar aan te kla. Hulle het nie sulke onsedelikheid nodig nie. So word sy uitgesit uit haar woonstel, het sy nie meer ‘n plek om haar beroep te beoefen nie. Dan neem sy wraak. In die diep nagtelike ure kom hamer sy aan sy deur, forseer sy haar op hom af; hy moet haar onderdak  gee.

Dit is dan die begin van ‘n verhouding wat al hoe dinamieser raak. Aan die een kant dan die emosionele aanvalle, maar dan kom ons iets o so menslik agter. Albei hunker daarna om anders te wees. Soos Tiemie in P.G. du Plessis se Siener in die suburb sou Doris ook kon sê: “Ek wil van geweet wees, Ma, ek wil nie vrek soos ‘n hond nie … Ek wou so graag van geweet wees.”

Sy is ‘n prostituut. Nee… “eintlik”  is sy al ‘n huishoudelike naam met al haar advertensies, en haar rolprente. Felix werk in ‘n boekwinkel, het die naam Fred afgelê. Hy is tog ‘n intellektueel? Sy verstand, sy gees is belangriker as sy liggaamlike drange; dit glo hy vas.  Hy is ‘n goeie skrywer, maar sy tekste kom om die een of ander rede telkens terug. Hy skryf tog onvergeetlike reëls soos: “The sun spit morning into Julian’s face.” (Doris en die verhaalkeurders waardeer dit maar net nie!)

In hierdie spel van karakteropenbaring beweeg hulle, elkeen met ‘n eie waarheid en wense, al hoe nader aan mekaar. Dit loop uit op ‘n slotbedryf waarvan ek nie die verrassing wil bederf nie. Dit is baie snaaks. Ek wil nie van swart humor praat nie; wil nie mense dalk afskrik nie. Kom ons sê dit speel rondom ‘n gasstoof af en hulle twee wil dit tegelyk gebruik.

Die stel wat Felix se woonstel in  San Francisco voorstel, is ‘n plesier vir die oog met alles so netjies sober. Die pronkstuk … ag, kom ons noem dit  mooi grênd: die pièce de résistance is die venster met die kleurespel op die naburige stadsgebou. Dis  só stemmingsvol en sein die tyd van die dag uitstekend oor vir die gehoor. Dit het my  teruggeneem na my tyd in die middestad van Kaapstad toe ek  kon rustig raak as ek sien hoe die Disapark-toringblokke teen Duiwelspiek deur die “son bespu” word.

Dis die soort opvoering wat my nie lank op ‘n slag en bulderend laat lag nie. Daarvoor is daar te veel lewensinsigte tussendeur.  Nee, daar kom net skielik en spontaan ‘n gegiggel by my op. Nee, wag ‘n bietjie! Mans giggel mos nie. Ons runnik en glimlag verder so op ons sigselwers.

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Reviewer: Celia Musikanth

 

This poignant comedy is a tour de force by Jana Botha and Sheldon Cross. A two-hander is never easy either to perform or to review. To perform, the actors have to be totally attuned with each other and keep the pace flowing. To review – well just how many adjectives can one use when the two performers are so slick, so professional and, indeed, so attuned to one another? When the one is the foil, the other shines and vice versa.

 

It is obvious that a lot of hard work and many hours have been put into rehearsals to achieve this result. Hats off to Director, Clifford Graham and to Botha and Cross. Also to lighting designer Gary Farquer  for magical effects and  to director Clifford Graham for great quality and choice of music between scenes.

 

Set in San Francisco with a beautifully lit sky line in a bachelor pad, the play is about two totally opposite people who argue, laugh, love, cry and eventually truly find themselves. Direction is tight and the laughter is there. This is not a laugh a minute comedy, which is the way this reviewer prefers it – because real life is not like that. Life is a mix of poignancy and laughter and to get this across is an art.

 

See it!

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SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews.

 

AMERICAN playwright/screenwriter Bill Manhoff deals with a similar situation that Edward

Lear does in his famous limerick…two disparate characters coming together and surprisingly

finding romance.

 

But where Lear’s owl and pussycat sail happily away in their pea green boat, Manhoff’s Doris

Wilgus (Jana Botha) and Felix Sherman (Sheldon Cross) have troubled waters ahead.

Felix’s sparsely furnished flat is the scene for Doris and Felix’s first antagonistic encounter.

Its 2am and Doris indignantly burst into his life. She’s just been evicted for being a prostitute,

and holding him responsible for reporting her, feels entitled to shelter in his apartment.

He’s abashed about having done so…particularly as he spied her through his binoculars.  But

while Doris plies her trade trying to soften him hp, his “intellect” and testosterone battle for

supremacy.

 

Much anger and frustration is expressed as the pair – now attracted -seek to mould the other into their own

preconceived neurotic mould.

 

Manhoff’s writing sensitively unmasks the weaknesses people have who have pretensions of

being something, or someone, they are not.  Over a period of four weeks Manhoff leads Doris

and Felix through a range of emotions.   Some are sexual. Some are poignant. Some are

abusive and some – if not downright funny – are certainly amusing.

 

While the pair struggle to find their inner truths, Manhoff dexterously peels off the protective

veneers Doris and Felix have carefully painted over themselves.

 

Unfortunately, in the first act Botha’s – at times indistinct – American accent twinned with too

much shouting, linked to too little vocal variation, irritated rather than held attention. Cross

fared better.  Clearer diction, coupled with twisting thumbs and index fingers portrayed his

Felix as a rather simpering, self-righteous man plagued by his own insecurities.

 

But as the show progressed director Graham skilfully guided the portraits Botha and Cross

drew to reveal their understanding of the emotional turmoil two fragile individuals pass

through on the way to finding out the truth about themselves. Thus freeing them to for a basis

for a loving relationship. Thought provoking.  Tickets are from R55.  A charity show in aid of

the Andrew Merryweather Fund takes place tomorrow at 8pm.  Call 021 788 1898

 

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