When Samantha was a kitten about to be shipped off to the animal shelter, her mother (Keira Naughton) warned her that she shouldn't go home with the first person who comes along but should instead hold out for love. (Mom also told her that she'd only have five days at the shelter to find it before -- well, you know.) Shuman (Brian Hutchison) seems to fit the bill, although the initial thrill of their meeting fades a bit once Samantha notices his bad breath in the morning and his tendency to leave her alone in the house for hours with no explanation. The play draws hilarious parallels to the beginnings of any relationship and the jealousies, disillusionments, and compromises that love entails.
Samantha's attachment to Shuman is challenged when she meets a frisky tom cat named Oscar (Mario Campanaro), who's smitten with her and wants to lure the indoor cat into a life in the great outdoors. "You got me pussy whipped," he tells her. Matilda (Naughton), a therapist who is actually able to talk to cats -- well, to Samantha, at any rate -- adds to the fun. A group session in which Shuman, Oscar, and Samantha express their feelings with physical gestures is one of the play's comic highlights.
As Samantha, McDonnell strikes a balance between a childlike naiveté and a wry sensibility. While this works well for the majority of the show, her performance doesn't really reflect the character's emotional growth. Campanaro has an infectious energy that makes the numerous characters he plays -- including a mouse, a little boy, and Michael Jackson -- entertaining, even if most are rendered in broad comic strokes. Hutchison is appealing as the nerdy yet kindhearted Shuman, but it's Naughton who gives the production's most memorable performance as the hilariously neurotic Matilda. (She's also a hoot as Samantha's chain-smoking mother.)
David Korins, who seems to have designed sets for the majority of productions I've seen this season, does his usual fine work here, creating a whimsical environment with brightly colored carpets to suggest a cozy, feline-friendly little home within a forest of green. (The whole thing can be seen as one large scratching post.) Lighting designer Ben Stanton helps make the set's colors pop. Costume designer Michael Krass wisely avoids outfitting the non-human characters in clothing that mimics the animals they portray; instead, he also utilizes a fairly bright palette.
Director Daniel Goldstein keeps the action moving at a brisk pace. The tone of the play is fairly light throughout, yet the ending packs a heftier emotional punch than might be expected. Finkle has crafted an ideal "date show" that you will probably enjoy best if you attend with someone you love.
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