According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Kitty and Lina

Youth and experience, passion and resentment collide in the form of Kitty and Lina, two New York women from different countries and backgrounds, struggling to make themselves heard. Their two monologues are funny and even endearing, but ultimately do not make up a full-fledged play.

Photo/Elisha Schaefer

Reviewed by Ilana Novick

Manuel Igrejas's Kitty and Lina explores two women at different stages in their lives: a young actress, struggling to get her life started, and a Portuguese immigrant with a successful career and a string of affairs behind her, struggling not with starting life, but with aging gracefully in a culture that worships youth. Individually their stories and the actresses who inhabit them are compelling, but structuring the show as two separate monologues without a common thread makes it seem like a work in progress: two engaging characters in search of a play.

Kitty (Jennifer Boutell), the actress who first has a turn on stage, is freshly arrived in New York from Texas, a platinum blonde in a sparkling red dress fueled by dreams of her future as a Woody Allen movie. Quickly rejected by the Actor’s Studio, her days are spent temping and her nights devoted to her charter membership in the Inwood Merry Players, content with being desired by her fellow cast members, rather than the critics and agents she felt were her due.

Kitty glides across the stage, with strides as wide as her heels will allow, batting her eyelashes, swinging her hips, as if she’s just gotten her first sip of freedom and wants to chug the whole glass before it goes away. She announces a pretty day, to be full of self confidence and glamour inside and out. Thankfully there’s a sharp wit underneath the cheerfulness, and Kitty quickly has the audience charmed by her descriptions of the Texas matrons she grew up with and their resemblance to Laura Bush (who, according to Kitty, would rather be spending her days sucking down Chesterfields and inhaling rather than applying her nail polish) it is this kind of attitude and sharp humor that gives complexity to what at first appears to be just another bubbly blond.

The contrast is made sharper when at the end of the monologue she takes off the wig and wipes off the makeup, her face suddenly drained of the confidence she walked in with. Changing her looks effectively intensifies the change in personality, but the stripped-down version of Kitty doesn’t get the stage time of her glamorous counterpart, and the audience never has a chance to find out what becomes of her, whether she ever has a chance to reconcile the sparkling hopeful Kitty, with the plainer, disappointed one. The monologue endswith no sense of Kitty’s future.

While Kitty is frustrated at her inability to get her career started, Lina (Marilyn Bernard), a Portuguese immigrant, has already had ample time for reinvention. She arrived in America as a wife stuck in an arranged marriage she escapes her husband, and the claustrophobic Portuguese community Newark, NJ, for the glamour of the publishing world in Manhattan. She’s made the best of her situation, and like Kitty quickly wins the audience over with her wit, in this case cracks about not being able to smoke in restaurants, how the other women in the restaurant should be guarding their dates.

She holds on tight to her glamor, a voice with the British accent she learned to speak English with in Portugal, a tasteful red pantsuit, and a cigarette holder. Lina is a sharp observer of the daily struggles experienced by herself and other women of her age simply to be noticed. Despite her confident exterior, she feels invisible, mortified by the smallest social interactions. Lina is humiliated walking into her neighborhood liquor store and being ignored by the clerks in favor of an attractive woman, who she says is the highlight of the clerks’ days. In contrast, Lina says, she feels like an imposition, a roadblock between the workers and their freedom. Lina’s observations on the aging process of women are important to be sure, but too complex a subject to be explored through one monologue. It deserves its own play with multiple women.

This is not to say that a play made of monologues is inherently ineffective. It often works better with a clearer context or theme binding the separate stories. Regardless of one’s views on its earnestness, even a show like The Vagina Monologues has at least one subject and motive connecting the juxtaposed stories. Kitty and Lina left me straining during this production to find some commonality other than the fact that the monologues were spoken by two women living in New York. The juxtaposition of age, culture, and values between the two women certainly points to how diverse the city is, but was that Igrejas's aim? The play is most laudable for the complexity and breadth of the characters, but that virtue does not quite compensate for the lack of plot or action. I would have loved to see the tough old broad sparring with the young, energetic upstart, and seeing what kind of a friendship might have been possible between the two. Anything to give these monologues a context, a plot, some hope of them being anything but two charming, but ultimately aimless speeches. Kitty and Lina need a story to do them justice, to show what their monologues so engagingly tell.


Kitty and Lina runs April 3-26 at Manhattan Theater Source: 177 Macdougal Street, 8pm, Wednesday through Saturday. Tickets are $18 and available at the theater box office or at

1 comment:

Shannon Sindelar said...

Thank you for this review. I saw the play just before it opened and found one commonality between the two characters that gave me a lot to think about: both women talk extensively about visibility. In Kitty's case, she feels exposed and constantly on display, whether it's men's jeers on the street or her own girlfriends' catty remarks at a party concerning the way she's dressed. Lina, on the other hand, is getting older and finds herself disappearing in the eyes of the increasingly young men and women around her; her invisibility (her example is the failure of a wine store staff to acknowledge her while shopping)-- makes her feel as though her value as a person is diminishing.

They also talk about being the "other woman" in affairs with men--with two very different outcomes in the way they perceive themselves--again, a comment on self-value.

These characters might not have much in common at face value, but they deal with something I think most women will admit is universal.