“The Owl and the Pussycat” was written by Bill Manhoff and opened on Broadway in 1964. It was made into a film in 1970 starring Barbra Streisand and George Segal. As a single-set full-length two-hander it has been produced widely. Manhoff did not write any further plays as he soon moved into the more lucrative world of TV and Film.
An unpublished writer (Felix) sees some suspicious activity in a neighboring San Francisco apartment and reports it to the landlord. The girl he reported (Doris) is evicted for prostitution and pounds on Felix’s door seeking an explanation. Felix maybe feels guilty that he is the reason for her homelessness, it turns out that she is not a career prostitute, just an actress and model between jobs, she stays the night. A rocky relationship ensues. Can these two be honest with each other when neither of them are honest with themselves?
The play feels very much of its time, and that time is now more than fifty years ago. The endearingly kooky prostitute/actress is no longer a staple of romantic comedies. Failed writers too have lost their allure.
What makes this production work though is the genuinely kooky performance of Marlies B. Bell as Doris. As a foreigner (she is Austrian) we can somehow buy her manic energy and constant one hundred and eighty degree mood swings. You can also believe that repressed Felix, as played by South African Zach Fouche, might fall in love with her.
Both actors are graduates of the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York and this production, by director Todd Felderstein, seems a good example of “The Method” in action.
Because of the march of time, the specifics of the plot are difficult to swallow; would a single guy working as a clerk in a San Francisco bookstore be able to afford an apartment on his own now? I think the play might have worked better as a period piece, then there would be less reason to find the central premise implausible. Having Doris noodling on her lap-top does not drag the piece into the twenty-first century.
But this quibble aside there is much to admire about this brisk and uncluttered production. It is very much a performers’ piece and both actors are playing at a very high level. Failure, prostitution, and an unsuccessful suicide pact may not seem like a recipe for comedy, but you will be pleasantly surprised.