A comedic culture clash turns into a journey of discovery

Doris (Meagan Kirby) and Felix (Nick Walker) battle, reconcile and learn about themselves in the Randall Theatre Company’s “The Owl and the Pussycat.”Bob Pennell

When a stuffy bookstore clerk who fancies himself an intellectual writer and a prostitute who fancies herself an actress end up sharing a San Francisco apartment, playgoers get an emotionally charged, sometimes-funny love story about two deeply damaged people.

The Randall Theatre's production of this character-driven play features Nick Walker as the bookish Felix, the introverted and emotionally crippled "owl," and Meagan Kirby as the fierce, emotional "cat," Doris.

The single set, designed by Toni Holley and Russell Medeiros, is an apartment lightly decorated in downscale mid-20th century style, with period props including a typewriter and rotary phone. Bob Herried directs the play, written in 1964 by Bill Manhoff, a longtime writer for TV shows such as "The Odd Couple," "Sanford and Son" and "The Partridge Family."

The characters meet when Felix complains to his landlord that a prostitute is using her nearby apartment to turn tricks. Doris is evicted and angrily barges into his place demanding to stay there for the night. Anger turns to lust, and then something resembling romance develops.

The awkward arrangement continues on and off as the characters fight, make up and come to some harsh realizations about themselves and one another. There are a some truly funny moments, but for the most part, this is an odd play about sad people who dream of more than life has allowed, and whose delusion eventually yields to a growing awareness of who they really are.

When Manhoff's comedy about this pair of opposites first opened in 1964, it was considered edgy and hip, a sign of the changing times at the start of the sexual revolution.

Questions of identity and self-worth haven't gone out of style, but a lot of the language and the story is dated. Doris calls Felix a "fink" and he's politically incorrect enough to refer to her as a "whore."

Their personal struggles may seem a bit cliché to a modern audience, but the actors work hard, and mostly succeed, at making the relationship believable, a tall order considering its deep dysfunction. Meagan Kirby's Doris is especially compelling, both funny and tragic in her naked desire for love.

The Randall Theatre is unique in the valley. Offering more than a show, the theater provides an entire social experience with artistic director Robin Downward as a warm and welcoming host. Before the show, theatergoers can enter a raffle to win seats in a front-row Lazy-Boy recliner.

Popcorn and other treats are available during the show, and on opening night there was even a Beatnik costume contest. It's a fun place that engages the audience and reflects the theater's community-focused spirit.

Shows are at 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, March 13-15 and 20-22. Matinees are at 1 p.m. Sundays, March 9, 16 and 23. Reserved seats cost $15 in advance. Pay-what-you-want tickets are available 30 minutes before shows.

The Randall Theatre is at 10 Third St., Medford. Tickets and information are available online at www.RandallTheatre.com or by calling 541-632-3258.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at decker4@gmail.com.

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