$200-an-hour therapist Nancy (Tessa Peake-Jones) has had plenty of experience ministering to women dissatisfied in their relationships, but even she finds herself at a loss when called in to help fickle Lily (Josefina Gabrielle) choose between the two men in her life. Will it be suave but aloof Philip (Gray O'Brien), the man with whom Lily was planning to start a family, or Dorian (Daniel Weyman), the impossibly wealthy ex-flame who can still make her go weak at the knees?
A classic romcom plot and the styling and tone of a sitcom make Park Avenue Cat reminiscent of programmes like Sex and the City, but there the similarity ends, as the show lacks not just the necessary humour, but also any sense of dramatic tension or narrative arc.
Frank Stausser’s characters, each of them as unsympathetic as the next, do not respond to each other like real people. These relationships seem so forced that the cast, although clearly doing their best with terrible material, are frequently wooden in their interactions with one another. Some imaginative American accents (Peake-Jones is the worst offender) do not help the situation any.
Glen Walford makes some bizarre directing choices too, creating a mood that aims for frenetic, but lands squarely on (poorly executed) farce. A couple of fight scenes, included presumably to give a sense of the animal passion underlying Lily’s relationships, are so over the top that they serve only to disrupt the narrative.
The most puzzling moment of staging, however, is in the final scene, where Lily and Philip have an argument that sees them leave the playing space and return to it several times, entirely untroubled by motive. A perusal of the script reveals that this is performed as written, so perhaps Walford isn’t entirely to blame. However, it is hard to understand how this scene wasn’t altered in rehearsal, as it is effectively unstageable.
Designer Mark Walters’ snazzy, sitcom-esque appears to be trying to overcompensate for the thinness of the material it forms a backdrop to. The result, unfortunately, is that it upstages the action throughout, not only during the unfortunate technical hitch that occurred last night, but also in the overly long scene changes.
All that said, Park Avenue Cat is not entirely dire. There are plenty of flaws here, but a few funny moments – the play's comedy a shameless product of the 'men are from Mars, women are from Venus' school – lighten the gloom. Gabrielle, to her credit, somehow manages to make Lily almost likeable, struggling against Stausser’s misogynistic vision of a woman whose search for emotional fulfilment is distracted by baubles, the trappings of life as a ‘Park Avenue cat’.