Sunday, 3 July 2011

Review: Park Avenue Cat @ Arts Theatre

As we are steadily reminded throughout the hour and half hour of Park Avenue Cat, the new play by Frank Strausser, which had its "world premiere" this week-end at the Arts Theatre, time is money. Most of the play takes place in the office of a posh LA therapist who charges $200 per hour.

So, having sat through the play, I am wondering why the author spent time writing it, why a production team spent time putting it up and why I and any audience member are asked to spent time (and money) watching it.

The play, said to be "a triangle with four corners" (!), brings together a therapist (Tessa Peake-Jones), who is probably not enjoying her job all that much), Lily (Josefina Gabrielle - the eponymous Parc Avenue cat) as well as Philip (Gray O'Brien - aka Tony Gordon in Coronation Street) and Dorian (Daniel Weyman), Lily's lovers.

In an interview on the play's dedicated website, Strausser (who was in the audience) explains that he thinks comedy comes out of awkward situations. Here the situations (and the plot) are not only awkward, they are also much too convoluted, nonsensical, sometimes contradictory and certainly not "hilarious".

Situation comedy has an established habit of asking us to suspend our disbelief but this is pushing to the point of asking us to perform an execution by hanging.

The only really clever bit of the play is the set design (by Mark Walters), which comprises two revolving sections that allow the creation of the three different sets of the play.

The performances are only marginally more convincing than the hyper-fake American accent that everyone is putting on (even I could spot something was wrong). The worst culprit on both counts (performance and accent) is in my view Tessa Peake-Jones, who simply overacts without giving much feeling to her character (not that the play gives her much room to display any of any depth).

In the aforementioned interview, the author also informs us that the play is not about therapy but about relationships. Sadly at the end we are not at all the wiser as to who the characters are, what their motivations are and what brings them together. Indeed we are not even sure that there are any kinds of relationships going on between them.

Lily in particular remains mostly an enigma though we gather that she is an insecure aging beauty who doesn't know what she wants and possibly (as inferred by the title) not much else than a gold digger. Sadly the play doesn't really take the time to analyse any of these things and what lies behind them.

Therefore, unlike so many people don't waste your time (and money) on this Park Avenue tat.

Park Avenue Cat is at the Arts Theatre until 19 August 2011 (maybe).

12 comments:

  1. I saw it this weekend too and got quite bored/impatient with it at times. I agree the set design was good. The accent put on by Gray O'Brien as Philip was pretty good I thought and the best of the three. Apart from Gray O'Brien and Tessa Peake-Jones, I don't know what the other actors sound like normally to be able to give an opinion. Unfortunately I didn't think the play/script was funny either and thought the character of Dorien was way over the top, perhaps he was meant to be annoying? I don't think the bad language added anything to it. Overall it was ok but not great. Most of the scenes took place in the therapy room but it wasn't about therapy?! Like you said we learned very little about the characters and what they were about. I think Gray O'Brien did a good job considering but his talents are wasted on this one :-(
    It will be interesting to see what the reviews in the press say after opening night.

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  2. You are right, O'Brien is the best of the lot but again, not helped by the poor writing. Quite a few of his lines sounded false.

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  3. It is true, he was wasted. I found it difficult to believe that Philip and Lily had been in a relationship for 3 years too, there didn't seem to be any chemistry between them as characters or as actors. I couldn't imagine her cooking him omelettes in the morning as per the script, or doing anything else for him unless there was something in it for her. Perhaps that was just the point, they weren't in a relationship at all.

    I'd have liked to have seen Philip realise that Lily wasn't all that, despite her beauty, (that she was actually a pain in the backside!) and going off to try and find love elsewhere. At least then there would have been a point to the story.

    I think even for an intelligent person, it was quite hard to follow at times too, there were also quite a few times where more than one character was speaking at the same time so it was difficult to hear everyone.

    Oh well!

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  4. Seen this last night, bought the tickets through Kelkoo for £9.50 ... glad I didn't spend anymore, it was really really dull with probably one of the worst endings ever ... harsh, I know but the actors gotta know its a BAD play!

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  5. I thought it the biggest waste of time, space and talent. It was shallow, silly, badly scripted and unsuited, I thought, to a London audience. Did they Broadway crowd love it or would they never risk putting on such low level work over there? My views: http://mmtheatrereviews.blogspot.com/

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  6. I don't know about the Broadway crowd but there's been mention of it being made into a film! I don't know how anyone initially reading the script would have thought 'Yeah, this is funny!'. I guess the situation they are in is meant to be funny but have to say, the only time I laughed a bit was at the facial expressions of Gray O'Brien when he was playing the Manservant-and that wasn't even in the script!

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  7. Saw this in preview and couldn't see how anything could be done to save it. The hopeless plot and lack of humour gave the actors nothing to work with. It was also incredibly hot in the theatre (which only goes part of the way to explaining why the actors were sweatig so much). Even a large glass of wine didn't assist with my enjoyment. Don't waste your time or money, and if you do, buying a programme only adds to the insult.

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  8. I think this one must have taken a few shows to get going. I saw it over the weekend and thought there were some really funny parts.
    The acting is solid. It's always great seeing Josefina Gabrielle on stage and Gray O'Brien finds his jokes, especially in the last scene.
    You've got to take your hat off for the set as well. Definitely the most impressive staging I've seen at the arts.

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  9. Shame it "got going" after the press night... The other reviews I have seen are just as negative as mine (and let's not mention the people commenting above).

    To be honest, I don't see how the play could ever "get going". It's simply badly written and there is nothing the cast can do about that, however good they may be.

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  10. Having had a look around, unfortunately all of the reviews by the press (and others) more or less say the same thing, that is, great capable cast, but poor script. I agree with them.

    Tessa Peake-Jones (Nancy) and Gray O'Brien (Philip) were on 'This Morning' a few days ago promoting it and by the looks on their faces I think they have realised that actually, the play isn't very funny. They looked a bit embarrassed to me unless it was my imagination.

    I guess they will have to stick it out and just do the best they can for another month or so.

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  11. Agree with Kevin about the theatre being absolutely boiling, even when it's pouring with rain outside, it's not even been that hot this summer either! That might explain why neither of the blokes had socks on with their shoes, not that a sock would make a lot of difference in that heat!

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  12. Apparently it has now been rewritten and they relaunched a new version of the play this evening....I wonder what they did with it?!

    It's good that they took notice of the reviews and did something about it. Although some people enjoyed it, the vast majority of people didn't seem to like it much.

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