Billed as "The purrrrfect romantic comedy," Kenny Finkle's lighthearted tale of a pampered feline (Tessa Thompson) who goes into heat over a world-savvy alley cat (Louis Lotorto) did not seem to portend the advent of a new O'Neill script. What a wonderful treat during this artistically parched summer to discover instead a refreshing and clever play made more, well, "purrrrfect" by a charming quartet of actors sparked by Stefan Novinski's imaginative and highly kinetic direction.
Thompson is the heart of this production as the thoughtful and inquisitive housecat Samantha, carrying the piece with a lovely, warm, and infectious performance without once leaving the stage. While being prepared for the ominous trial of finding a loving home of her own by her mother (Shana Wride)--herself trapped in a household of people who don't know the difference between 100- and 800-thread counts--Samantha is hurled into the local animal shelter, a place she sees as something akin to Amistad meets Schindler's List. ("What?" she challenges the audience. "Just because I'm a cat I can't make cultural references? I sit in front of the TV 90 percent of my life.") Samantha makes contact through the bars with the nerdy Shuman (Jeff Marlow) in a scene somewhat reminiscent of Tony and Maria's first glance at the "Dance at the Gym." But, two months later, she realizes her new owner doesn't comprehend her words and has started going out for long periods without explanation.
The four actors give way to the silliness and physical comedy without sacrificing an honest commitment to their characters. Marlow is a delight as the schlep who misunderstands his slinky companion. Wride is a cross between Judy Canova and Imogene Coca as a cat-nipped veterinarian assistant who can converse with animals. Lotorto seems to have studied the art of quick changes from Siegfried and Roy. Although this strange interlude of a play chronicles a long day's journey of its own, the iceman never comeths, and the hairier characters aren't apes. Still, Finkle's story offers a crafty humor and a few lessons in life to be gleaned from it, proving it ultimately touched by a poet after all.