We first meet Travis, who is in his 50’s, in his apartment. He is amiably conversing on his cell phone with Denis, with whom he went on a pleasant date. When Travis learns that Denis lives on Staten Island, he becomes privately apoplectic.
Travis is revealed to be one of those insufferable, imperious old queens lacking in self-awareness to realize how odious he is and astonished that he’s single. He is an authority on theater, opera and everything else cultural. This Manhattanite couldn’t possible date anyone from Staten Island! There’s good New Jersey and bad New Jersey. Anti-Madonna and anti-Andrew Lloyd Webber screeds abound. He is incredulous and outraged that people don’t get his references to The Addams Family, Abbott and Costello and Oscar Wilde. He spends inordinate amounts of time poring over prospective profiles on OkCupid, Match.com and even on the gay hookup app Grindr. His correspondence with prospective dates is made up of contrived responses, tailored to their preferences
Mr. Marinelli structures his solo play as five scenes taking place over a week and presented as Travis’ phone calls to his dates, to his good friend Earl (referred to as Gurl) or just as spoken out loud thoughts. These are well observed but are dramatically scattershot. Still, …and then I meowed…, has dramatic potential.
Only near the end of the play does Marinelli disclose that Travis’ partner and also his beloved cat died three years earlier. This lack of background information makes the previous 75 minutes a tiresome character study of an unlikable and dull person. Initial knowledge of his depressive state would have informed and altered one’s perception of him.
Marinelli’s performance also contributes to the ennui. Heavy set, possessing a sullen countenance, speaking in a light voice, and lethargically shuffling around, he’s not the most charismatic performer to spend 90 minutes with. In the last portion, when he encounters a lost cat after being stood up on a date, his acting and the play has a jolt of energy and momentum as it reaches its upbeat conclusion.
Compounding the stasis is Barbara Parisi’s direction. Ms. Parisi is adept at handling the main element of the physical staging, moving Travis from his chair, to his couch and around the living room. There is a maddening device that is employed that is not in the stage directions of the script.
As a scene concludes, the lights dim and recorded music plays and Marinelli leaves. For several minutes, the audience sits in darkness listening to music. Marinelli eventually returns wearing a different shirt. This is repeated four times adding length and annoyance. A less obtrusive indication of the passage of time would have been ideal.
Parisi’s lighting design is a fine blend of straightforward brightness and necessary shades of darkness throughout.
Scenic designer Basil Horn has assembled a nice looking living room and his sound design proficiently realizes the tones of the moody background music.
As The Cat, Fabio is fascinating without being overpowering. He amazingly stays in place, gestures on cue and has delightful facial expressions.
Despite its flaws, …and then I meowed… ultimately has compelling aspects to it. With a reconfiguring of the script and a snappier pace, it could be akin to one of Allan Bennett’s landmark theatrical portraits that comprise Talking Heads.
…and then I meowed… (through October 22, 2017)
Ryan Repertory Company
Harry Warren Theatre, 2445 Bath Avenue, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
For tickets, call (718) 996-4800
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission