Cats Don't Grin
nytheatre.com review by Pamela Butler
August 13, 2010
The theatre is darkened, small cones of warm light, reminiscent of airport landing lights, are arranged uniformly across the stage. The opening music is decidedly French, with a soulful accordion tune setting the tone while two characters dress in the near dark. I could not see them clearly, only their movements, but others in the audience, closer to the stage, laughed at different points.
When the lights rise there is a music box melody, and a man stands in red satin pumps with bows, and a short blue frilled, off-the-shoulder mini dress. The woman with him is in a man's suit and shoes, her hair coiffed to look the masculine part. They are strangers who have met on a Paris subway platform where some chemistry has happened and they've come back to his Paris apartment.
They are tentative, newly met strangers, but the dialogue is engaging, the repartee clever and amusing. When she starts apologizing and then apologizing for always apologizing, and then worrying she's being annoying for all that, he says "no, you're not..." and she says as an aside, "not yet, anyway..." I seemed to be alone in laughing out loud, but I recognized that self-deprecating behavior.
They work their way through trying to get their roles straight, get what they want; to perhaps not be alone, not be unloved, but it's never clear just exactly what's going on here. I found myself asking "Are these two an old married couple role-playing to make their lives more exciting?" or are they really strangers, symbolic of any two strangers, meeting for potential love, and all that goes along with trying to get close and get along. There are times when they take "time out" and want to rerun the script to get it right—one or the other is not happy, and they insist on retrying the scenes.
Despite being confused about the intent of the play, I enjoyed it. The set is simple, the lighting inventive, thanks to Derek Wright's design, and cleverly used with directorial imagination, by Francois Carre and Elinor Famutimi together.
Sanam Erfani plays the complementary female, and both actors, Carre and Erfani, are delightfully in tune with one another, energetic and electric. There are echoes of Ionesco here, and with that master, it can take time for the real impact to set in.
I once had a life-changing insight from a Fringe play, after the fact; perhaps Cats Don't Grin will strike someone's imagination with similar impact. Hey, it could happen.