Park Avenue Cat

Our critics rating: 
Review by: 
Peter Brown

I'm not sure what a 'park avenue cat' actually is, since I have never heard the term before. In an interview on this show's website the author, Frank Strausser, informs us that it is a woman who is 'beautiful, fine, precious, successful, on top of the world, has fabulous men, but can't choose between them'. That may help to understand the title at least, though it won't help you enjoy this insipid, lacklustre play any better, billed as a comedy, but with about as many laughs as you might have when having several teeth extracted.

To be scrupulously fair, the play is built on the germ of a good idea, but it never leads anywhere, or achieves what can remotely be described as a satisfactory, let alone an interesting resolution. Nancy is a Los Angeles therapist who conducts couples' therapy in a swanky office. She's expecting Lily and her partner Phil for a therapy session, but at first only Lily turns up. Phil – or the person we think is Phil – turns up later, and when they meet they instantly fall fighting to the floor. It turns out that Phil is really Dorian, one of Lily's previous lovers that she ran into the previous night and told him about her therapy session. We meet Phil later in a restaurant where he hands over a ring and proposes. But that doesn't satisfy Lily, and doesn't put paid to Dorian's renewed and strangely energetic advances. The result is that all three end up in therapy with Nancy, which is where the good idea comes in.

The dialogue is peppered with psycho-babble, such as 'safe place', 'proactive bedrock' and the like which lends a modicum of authenticity to the concept. But Nancy seems intent on dictating to her clients rather than getting them to think things through for themselves and make appropriate choices, which left me wholly unconvinced about the character and the accuracy of the background research.

Limp, uninspiring direction does little to help with the development of the play, but then it's hard to transform a psychological sow's ear into a dramatic silk purse. What the play needed was a substantial makeover to inject some bite and intelligent wit into the dialogue, and some revelations that would have helped us to understand more about Lily and her suitors. As it is, 'Park Avenue Cat' is like one of those embarrassingly weak TV soaps - plenty of froth without any explosive bubbles and much that borders on making one cringe. The exchanges between the characters are contrived to the extent that there's nothing which is even vaguely amusing, at least to a British ear. And the ill-conceived fights are really slap-stick devices intended to shore-up the deficiencies in the story and dialogue, but singularly fail to do so.

Mark Walters' clever and ingenious design has a rotating, sliding set that transforms into the various locations. But even the scenic machinery seemed in revolt as the elevator doors stuck at one point, leaving the actors to arrive with the doors already open.

The saving grace of 'Park Avenue Cat' is that it is mercifully short, but it is still a strain to stay the course. Disappointingly, the germ of a good idea simply got disinfected almost as soon as it appeared, leaving us with a bland, moribund, damp squib of a play that had nothing else to offer.



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