First, you have to understand the rules by which Finkle is playing. In the world of Indoor/Outdoor, the actors playing cats stand erect, walk and sit normally, and wear normal human attire. The cats are capable of physical gestures which no cat could actually perform. More than that, these cats understand English - and by this, I don’t mean that they simply speak to the audience in English, I mean that they fully understand everything human characters say to them. They’re smart; they’re complex; they’re funny; and they know quite a bit about pop culture. (After one of them kills a mouse, the cat struts around the stage while “I’m Too Sexy” plays over a loudspeaker.) And although they occasionally do something particularly cat-like (which tends to get a laugh every time), the real factor which truly distinguishes these cats from people is that, although they think complex thoughts and say complex things, the only thing that the people in their lives can hear them say is “Meow.”
The story surrounds Samantha (played with straightforward innocence by Tessa Thompson), a sweet little kitten adopted by Shuman (Jeff Marlow), a stay-at-home geek with a job in web design. Samantha is quite content in her comfortable daily routine with Shuman, until she sees Oscar (Louis Lotorto), an alley cat who talks to her through the window. Oscar talks to Samantha about the wonders of the world outside - a world she’s never known - and also pledges his love to her. Samantha is conflicted and, near the end of the first act, decides she will misbehave so much that Shuman will throw her out of the house, thereby achieving her desired goal of being with Oscar.
This makes no sense. While you’re watching it, you realize: “This makes no sense.” If Samantha wanted to go outside that much, why didn’t she just stand near the door and meow her brains out, in the universally accepted signal for “let me out”? Or why didn’t she just wait until the next time Shuman opened the door and make a break for it? No startled human can outrun a determined cat over short distances. And why does Samantha think Shuman will throw her outside if she goes too far - wouldn’t he take her back to the shelter instead?
There are two reasons why these problems do not kill the play: First, Stefan Novinski has directed this production so quickly, you’re too busy paying attention to the next funny bit to really dwell on any plot holes. Second, and more important, Finkle’s play is not about cats. Instead of looking at Samantha as a comfortable indoor kitty who is tempted by an outdoor alley cat, look at her as an unfulfilled housewife, tempted by a romantic stranger who promises her the world. All of a sudden, it all makes sense. Simply meowing or sneaking out the door won’t do it for Samantha; she feels she must goad Shuman into terminating their relationship, so that she can be free to be with Oscar.
Telling this story as an interspecies tale has its advantages. Chief among them is the fact that Shuman does not understand a word Samantha says. (And if you don’t see a metaphor made literal in that, you’re not paying attention.) Because communicating her desires is so difficult for Samantha, she can’t be roundabout in stating her point. When Samantha feels confused, she doesn’t dance around the subject; she just says, “I feel confused.” Indoor/Outdoor cuts through all the trappings that usually surround communication - particularly communication about a relationship by the people in that relationship - and has its feline characters speak with a simple clarity that is, at times, soul wrenching.
And then they go back to batting pine cones across the stage. Indoor/Outdoor might be a show about communication, relationships, what you want, what you need, and what you have - but it’s also, at the very same time, a comedy about a guy who finds himself in a therapy session with his cat. Shana Wride is an absolute hoot as the self-proclaimed cat therapist, as she tries every pop psychology technique in the book to bridge the chasm between her patients. There is a message in this play, but it’s wrapped up in a tasty candy coating.
Indoor/Outdoor runs at the Colony Theatre in Burbank through September 18, 2005. For tickets and information, see www.colonytheatre.org.
The Colony Theatre Company - Artistic Director Barbara Beckley; Managing Director Sean Alan Cutler - presents Indoor/Outdoor by Kenny Finkle. Scenic Design by Susan Gratch; Costume Design by Melanie Watnick; Lighting Design by Lisa D. Katz; Sound Design by Drew Dalzell; Properties Design by Robyn Taylor; Marketing/Public Relations David Elzer/Demand PR. Production Stage Manager Armina LaManna. Directed by Stefan Novinski.
Photo by Michael Lamont