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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

You are one sexy kitty --- Oscar

Tessa Thompson's Samantha, the cat who is the heroine of Kenny Finkle's gentle comedy, takes you inside the heart and soul of that sleek creature sharing your house. Don't expect the usual feline impersonation created by the inimitable Eartha Kitt who purred and snarled her way through "Santa Baby" in the 1950s.

This heroine begins as an innocent kitten reciting her life story for the audience. Her Mom, played by the multi-talented Shana Wride, breaks the news that because the family they live with hasn't given the kitten a name, she's on her way to the Animal Shelter, while Mom remains a wretched prisoner compelled to watch Cybil with her mistress.

At the shelter, the kitten learns to audition for a number of wannabe kitty-owners. Finkle cleverly depicts the way the owners project their own needs on the hapless animal. She's rejected by one for being too needy and another for being too independent. ("I need a cat who needs me to tell it what to do!") Finally in comes Shuman (Jeff Marlow). It's love at first sight. Shuman names the kitten Samantha, a rite which imprints her with more than a feeling of self-worth. Soon she's queening it around the house in the woods where the shy reclusive Shuman works as a web designer. "You're surprised by my cultural references?" she snaps at the audience. "Why not? I spend 90% of my time in front of the TV."

Other rites include Samantha's first kill, one of the play's best scenes, in which she chases a mouse around the house, has a glorious time teasing it to death and flies into a fury when she proudly presents it to Shuman who thanks her and throws it out. Samantha never forgets that. It's when she first realizes Shuman doesn't understand her and becomes susceptible to the lure of Oscar, the alley cat whose travels have landed him outside her window.

Anyone who has ever owned a cat can identify with Samantha's travails. We hardly need Matilda, the cat therapist who can talk to cats, to translate for us. Shana Wride is wonderful as the neurotic Matilda who iterrupts a phone therapy session to scream "Who is Rasputin?" at the TV program "Jeopardy. Matilda, however, takes up a little too much of the second act with gesture therapy trying to resolve the triangle between Samantha, Oscar and Shuman.

Samantha's indoor/outdoor arc is a familiar one to those who know house pets but the last scene is unrealistic. Director Stefan Novinski keeps the production snide and sprightly with the help of an outstanding cast. Thompson displays the sweetness, frustration and rage endemic to both humans and animals. She has a truly searing snarl, transforming her lovely face into a mask of bestiality. Jeff Marlow and Shana Wride create fully-rounded characters as the nerdy Shuman and the needy aspiring Matilda. Louis Lotorto has little to do but be dashing as Oscar, the alley cat, but he does it with vivid panache. All the actors except Thompson play small character roles in Melanie Watnick's wild and wacky costumes that depict, with outrageous Úlan, the people a cat has to put up with.

Playwright: Kenny Finkle
Director: Stefan Novinski
Cast: Tessa Thompson (Samantha), Jeff Marlow (Shuman), Shana Wride (Matilda), Louis Lotorto (Oscar), Sara T. Painter (Understudy for Samantha)
Set Design: Susan Gratch
Lighting Design: Lisa D. Katz
Costume Design: Melanie Watnick
Sound Design: Drew Dalzell
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission
Running Dates: August 20 to September 18, 2005
Where: The Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, CA. Ph: (818) 558-7000
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on August 20.

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