When a play has been running successfully for 51 years, your expectations of it tend to be on the high side. The Owl and the Pussycat by Bill Manhoff, was first performed in New York in 1964. The audiences loved it and it was such a hit on Broadway, that Hollywood made a movie out of it, starring Barbra Streisand and George Segal. Since then, it has been adapted and enacted in many countries around the globe, and many people have been delighted by the spectrum of humour that it displays. To do justice to such a well-written, two-person performance is no mean feat, yet Preeti Gupta and Deepal Doshi succeed in pulling it off with aplomb.
The play explores the complex relationship that evolves between an aspiring writer/ professional magazine seller, and an aspiring model/professional escort when they are thrown together by circumstances. The relationship starts off with contempt and hostility, with them hurling abuses at each other, “making obscenities out of God’s harmless creatures”. She’s clearly defensive about being a prostitute, albeit a non-promiscuous one; he has a prickly relationship with the real world which is yet to recognize him as an intellectual. The “nauseation is mutual”, even though the attraction is palpable. What happens when they give in to the attraction? That is the scenario the play explores.
The writing is brilliant and if Bill Manhoff had been there, he would have had people queuing up to shake his hand. Dialogues like “The sun spit morning into Chetan’s face” and finding “a middle ground between wholesale copulation and no sex” had the audience in splits.
Preeti Gupta and her team have done an excellent job of adapting the play for contemporary India, and there was hardly a moment when it seemed Western or dated. Sujay Saple has used light cleverly to convey pain and passion, and interestingly chosen red for both. Jayant Negi’s music direction is to-the-point and remarkable for that reason.
Deepal’s rendition of the tormented intellectual is more Bengali than Maharashtrian, both in accent and mannerisms. Though perhaps, the character was made Maharashtrian just to give local flavour to the play. Preeti Gupta is laugh-out-loud good and perfect as the Pussycat- her feline grace and in-a-blink transformations, from the furious neighbor to the sultry seductress, were remarkable.
Why you should watch the play:
Preeti Gupta and Deepal Doshi have done a spectacular job. The Owl and the Pussycat offers that rare balance between clever jokes and slapstick humor- making it a comedy that has something for everyone. You’ll walk out with the hilarious image of Dimpy Sharma, planning her suicide to the Chariots of Fire soundtrack, set in your mind for at least the rest of the week.
Note: Pehelwan Inc. will be back in October with another performance of The Owl and the Pussycat. Watch this space for more details!