Hoot, purr, repeat
The Owl and the Pussycat
Sacramento, CA 95814
Most people know this romantic comedy from the early 1960s (insofar as they are aware of it at all) through the 1970 film version, which starred Barbra Streisand and George Segal. But the movie version was a rewrite (with several minor characters added and a bit of nudity thrown in, among other changes) of the 1964 Broadway play, a two-hander which starred Alan Alda (who would have been just shy of 30 at the time) and African-American actress Diana Sands (although the script does not specify the female character’s ethnicity). At the time, the idea of a romantic comedy about an interracial couple was considered a bit daring.
It’s the theatrical version that is currently at the Sacramento Theatre Company, and given that the play has not been often produced during the past 40 years, it’s a version that most people have never seen.
The setting, at least nominally, is San Francisco. That’s mostly in the form of street names that pop up here and there; otherwise, it might as well be New York. And we’re talking about San Francisco during the twilight of the beatnik era (the Summer of Love and psychedelia and hippies were still a few years in the future).
The opening scene owes a debt to Alfred Hitchcock: Felix, a bookstore employee with aspirations as a writer (played here by Timothy Orr), has been hanging out by a window with binoculars, and he’s seen his attractive near neighbor Doris (Lyndsy Kail), an actress/model on the fringes of that business who occasionally turns a trick, entertaining a customer at home.
Doris shows up at Felix’s door to complain; a remark made by Felix to the landlord has gotten her kicked out of her apartment. Thus ensues a string of arguments, sustained over several scenes, as Doris and Felix make the transition from anger to amour, then break up, then reunite: You know, the stuff that typically happens in almost every romantic comedy.
Orr, who worked for several years with the late, lamented Foothill Theatre Company and more recently did some good acting at UC Davis while earning a master’s degree in fine arts, handles the nerdy, bookish writer thing quite well. He almost slips into Henry Higgins mode when Felix decides to improve Doris by teaching her words like impeccable, in an effort to upgrade her vocabulary. And the energetic Kail, fresh off an appearance in STC’s The Importance of Being Earnest, uses her long, slender limbs and piercing gaze to good effect.
The script, by Bill Manhoff, is his only play; mostly, he wrote TV episodes for Leave It to Beaver, Petticoat Junction and such. The dialogue, while more mature than those shows, still displays some of that writing style.
Overall, Orr and Kail, under the direction of Matt K. Miller, make a pretty decent case that this play—while very much a product of its era (and a bit dated)—deserves a better fate than the obscurity in which it has languished.