“There’s some irony here – my beautiful girl was Montserrat. Her meow had a beautiful pianissimo,” says Trey, a middle-aged gay man, of his cat that he has just had euthanized due to cancer. He’s in a New York City veterinarian waiting room as is Keith, a younger suited gay man reading The Wall Street Journal. Keith is there with a cat in a carrier named Luciano who’s in for a checkup and that belongs to his ex-boyfriend. Thus begins Be That Guy (A Cat and Two Men) an uneven romantic drama written by Tony Marinelli.
This first of the play’s three scenes is a very well written classic case of opposites interacting as the two men share their life stories with humor and sincerity and then go out for a drink. The action is jolted by the release from the carrier of Luciano who is played by tiger cat of the same name. He is very personable, lively and performs with flair. Cat lovers will be delighted by his prominent presence throughout the play.
The second scene takes place in Trey’s apartment six months later and we learn of his subsequent relationship with Keith; the third scene is two weeks later there as a dramatic conclusion is reached. Though many details are imparted there is an odd lack of specificity regarding the characters’ occupations and other biographical details. Apart from a peck on the cheek there is little physical or textual indication that the two men are deeply involved with each other as they are supposed to be.
Trey is older, morose, weary, anti-social, and besides being obsessed with cats is also devoted to opera and the arts. The sound design is comprised of operatic excerpts. Keith is younger, culturally ignorant, and some sort of finance executive. That they have sexually and emotionally bonded isn’t made clear enough during the course of the play and this lessens its overall impact. Perhaps the author’s intention is to depict the lengths the lonely will go to have a relationship even when there is minimal commonality, but then this is not fully dramatized either.
There are plentiful and passionate passages that lushly describe the appeal of cats and the harsh realities of gay dating. The promise of the first scene with its quirky meeting between two dissimilar individuals is relatively unfulfilled.
Heavyset and with a sullen countenance, Mr. Marinelli plays Trey by ably conveying the character’s melancholy and witty expressiveness. The charming John Carhart as Keith is animated and gives a fully realized characterization of the contemporary middle-class gay man navigating through New York City’s difficult milieu.
Elizabeth Anne Block has staged this two-character play that feels over long with little physical action as deftly as possible. The simple and purposeful set design is also designed by Ms. Block.
Though it is in the noble theatrical tradition of celebrating ordinary lives such as in the works of Paddy Chayefsky and Terrence McNally, Be That Guy (A Cat and Two Men) is heartfelt but ultimately unsatisfying.
Be That Guy (A Cat and Two Men) (through October 18, 2015)
Ryan Repertory Company at The Harry Warren Theatre, 2445 Bath Avenue, in Brooklyn
For tickets, call 718-996-4800 or visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2253336
Running time: one hour and forty minutes with two short intermissions