Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
What do a pretty young actress and a Portuguese divorcee have in common? The love of New York, and a story to tell that's not quite finished. In Manuel Igrejas' Kitty and Lina, two women tell almost all about their pursuits, loves, and acceptance of what is and what isn't in their own separate monologues. Both performers are commanding in their own way: Marilyn Bernard brings an edge to Lina that is punctuated with a swagger, playfulness, and poise that makes her slightly more fun to watch. But as Kitty, Jennifer Boutell is no slouch, bringing an innocence and vulnerability to the role that is remarkable.
The show opens with Kitty, a Marilyn-esque looker with a beautiful sparkly dress that says "all eyes on me." As her monologue progresses, her experiences with men teach her that "all eyes on me" gets tired really fast and sometimes ugly. Boutell's performance is part prance, part coquette, and part sass, but she never looks entirely comfortable. Her declarations of prettiness, almost childlike in her delivery, make her endearing and worthy of our protection, even if it's just in a reassuring gaze from an audience member to meet her own. We're aware that she uses her beauty until others start to use it too, but we forgive her when she can't handle the give and take. We smile when she takes offense to the term "filling out," for we know that this term is actually a compliment in other cultures. Although the writing tells us that she's disgusted with cat-calls and being treated as an object, the show is missing the descriptive words and adequate explanation necessary to drive the point home. We need more than declarative statements and Boutell's sensitivities to understand that sentiment, particularly since her whole character is built around her looks. Kitty tells us about her dreams to be an actress, her experiences as a waitress, and the men who came and went from her life. Her journey begins with an indulgence in her external appeal and ends with a decision to play up her internal appeal. We want to believe it, but the desire for the turnaround in her life comes too swiftly.
Lina establishes herself as a man-eater from the beginning, coming in with a knowing glance that tells us that she gets what she wants whether we like it or not. Her confidence is hard to ignore, and we know where it's from. She's survived a lot; an arranged marriage in Portugal and a divorce in a time when it was unheard of. Everything else after that should be a piece of cake. But it isn't. We envy her as she finds real love with a man very much unlike her ex-husband, but even real love won't make her jump the broom again. She instead prefers to love and leave, enjoying and savoring the taste of freedom and happiness that being single brings. Although her story is more developed and her character is more compelling than Lina's, her segment takes a sharp turn into a discourse about getting older. There should be a smoother segue into this concern for her life. Still, Igrejas handles the trials of aging in a fresh, unconventional way, and Bernard takes the strong cues from director Lory Henning and runs with them.
Kitty and Lina is a nice retrospective into two women's lives that has some funny moments, but the writing can be tweaked to take it to the next level. As it stands, it is thoughtful and a tribute to the strength of women, but there's no substantial link between the characters to lump their stories together. They need more than New York as the glue. When Igrejas figures out what that is and incorporates it into the script, his show will be all the better for it.
Through April 26. Tickets: $18. 212-352-3101 or 866-811-4111(toll free). Manhattan TheatreSource 177 MacDougal StreetNew York, NY 10011