Here, Kitty, Kitty: Playwright Offers Off-Broadway Shaggy Cat Story

Here, Kitty, Kitty: Playwright Offers Off-Broadway Shaggy Cat Story According to 34-year-old playwright Kenny Finkle, his new cat comedy Indoor/Outdoor was not inspired (at least consciously) by a certain long-running Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, but by his own experience of growing up with three housecats.
Brian Hutchison and Emily Cass McDonnell in Indoor/Outdoor.
Brian Hutchison and Emily Cass McDonnell in Indoor/Outdoor. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Now playing at Off-Broadway's DR2 Theatre, Indoor/Outdoor explores the character of Samantha, a talking housecat who shares her memoirs and feelings about feline and human relationships with her audience. After a short run this past summer at the Summer Play Festival, a trio of Broadway producers (Hal Luftig, Margo Lion, and Daryl Roth) suddenly became interested in the play and brought it to its current commercial production.

Playbill.com: Where did the idea for the play come from?
Kenny Finkle: I have a cat named Beverly that I live with, and I was very stuck for an idea for a play. As playwrights do, they feel like they need to write the great American, most important play in the world. I had to write the next Death of a Salesman, and I was stuck. So I wrote a play particularly about Beverly and two other cats I had growing up, one named Phoebe, and one named Samantha.

Playbill.com: When did you begin writing it?
KF: The fall of 2002. I thought it'd be a ten-minute play, just an exercise for my mind. But I had a really good time writing from the voice of Samantha. And I got 40 pages in and I realized that I wasn't writing about a cat at all, but relationships. The play became really exciting for me, and I felt I should pursue it.

Playbill.com: Has it developed considerably since 2002?
KF: Immensely. The voice of the play, the heart of the play, where it ends up, and Samantha as a character have always been the same. And her journey has always been there, but it's gotten stronger and clearer. A lot of the other characters have changed too. Oscar, the sexy alley cat, was an older character in the first few drafts. He just kind of came and went. And for a while, the play was in two acts. It wasn't till Off-Broadway that I switched it to 90 minutes without an intermission.

Playbill.com: How does the fictional character of Samantha compare to your cats?
KF: Samantha is pretty much a combination of the three. Beverly is very talkative, aggressive, and fun, and likes to cause a little bit of trouble. I don't think I can talk to her like the character of Matilda does, but I feel personally connected to her. I can feel what she needs or wants. The real Samantha is similar to the play's Samantha in her sweetness. The way that the character of Shuman meets Samantha at an animal shelter was the same way that I met the real Samantha when I was a teenager. She looked at me and I couldn't take my eyes off her, so she came home with me. Samantha also had a love affair with an outdoor cat through the sliding glass window. And Phoebe was really an indoor cat who desperately wanted to be an outdoor cat. So I guess between the three of them, they make up the character.

Playbill.com: Are there any earlier plays that influenced the piece?
KF: I don't have a very good answer for you. I'm going to say a whole bunch of things. There's definitely something whimsical and romantic in a play like Prelude to a Kiss. I'm sometimes influenced by Christopher Durang plays like Beyond Therapy. And I'm sorry for being far reaching, but something like Shakespeare, where the heart is on the table and there's no holding back, with pure unabashed passion and heart.

Playbill.com: What were you looking for when you auditioned actresses to play Samantha?
KF: What we eventually found in Emily Cass McDonnell is emotional honesty. There's something offbeat about Emily that perks up your ears. You have to watch her a bit more. There's also a star quality that pulls you into her, like you think this woman is kind of interesting. We saw a lot of amazing actresses for the part, and Emily really won it because she brought something completely different to the role that was unexpected and exciting and totally unique.

Playbill.com: Where did the title Indoor/Outdoor come from?
KF: The very, very first title of the play was Samantha: Memoirs of a House Cat. I thought it was lovely, but all my friends in theater thought it was wrong. I don't remember how I got to Indoor/Outdoor. But even at the beginning, when I talked about the play, I described Samantha as an indoor cat who wanted to be an outdoor cat. Someone else probably suggested it.

Playbill.com: And how did Broadway producers like Hal Luftig, Margo Lion and Daryl Roth become interested in the show?
KF: It's an odd story. It's a good story. Hal Luftig is a graduate Columbia, as am I, and there's a mentoring program for young theater artists. Hal became my mentor and would bring me to shows. He'd see whatever I was doing, and be around and supportive of me. Lily Hung, who's the associate producer, is also a grad of Columbia. She was sort of the show's line producer at SPF. She had been in the same class at Columbia and she also works for Margo Lion. And by accident, Margo and Hal came on the same night and sat next to each other and loved the play. And simultaneously, my agent had passed the script onto Daryl Roth, and she fell in love with it independently of them. So, in the end, they decided it could be a fun project to take on together. It all happened maybe a week after SPF, so it was like a whirlwind in that way.

Playbill.com: How long will it run Off-Broadway?
KF: It's scheduled now through April 23, so I think it's a limited run for now. The play has already started to have its own life. We had a production in California this past summer at the Colony Theatre. And it opens at Trinity Rep in Providence, Rhode Island the night that we open Off-Broadway. It's also slated next year for Virginia Stage.

Playbill.com: The decision to not dress Samantha like a cat reminded me of Snoopy in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
KF: I'm very specific about that in the script, that none of the cats should act or dress like cats. The play for me is about this cat named Samantha, but it's also about relationships. I didn't want the audience to get stuck on the idea of, "oh, this is a cat." So by not having her perform the affectations of a cat, the audience gets to see the play on both of its levels.

Playbill.com: There seemed to be an abundance of 1980s British pop music in the show.
KF: The silly love song is the key music for Samantha. The thing is, I adore pop music. I feel like it can be both frivolous and irrelevant but profoundly deep and moving. And that irreverence and heart is actually reflected in the world of the play. And that's the kind of writer I am. When you hear a great pop song like "Come on Eileen," there's something that moves you.

Playbill.com: Where did the idea to make the entire set design out of carpeting come from?
KF: We had amazing designers and their used their budgets really wisely. The truth is, every production of the play has used carpet in same way. That's not something I've insisted on or demanded, but every production has gravitated towards that. With David Korins and Daniel Goldstein, we asked where the world of the play is, and I said this is a place where you feel comfortable and taken care of. So Dave immediately wanted to do the whole set in carpet.

Playbill.com: Were you at all influenced by the musical Cats?
KF: Well, I remember seeing it as a kid. I know some of the songs, and I certainly know the basic outline of the show, but I don?t think that it influenced me. I'd say if it did, it was very unconsciously. I really thought for a long time about writing for a cat, so I can't say that Cats inspired me to write a cat play. That was definitely not the impulse. At SPF, someone was like, "Wow, you really discovered an untapped market of cat lovers." And I'm like, "Actually, I think there was a musical earlier that already did that."

Playbill.com: What would you say is the message of the play?
KF: I have to be honest, I'm hesitant to say that. I think the joy of the play is in the audience discovering that on their own. I'd say the play is about love, what it means to love, find love, and how you love. But that's the most I'd say about it.

Playbill.com: What other projects do you now have in development?
KF: I have a one-woman I show I co-wrote with Cynthia Silver called Bridezilla Strikes Back. It got great reviews and we're moving towards the next phase. I'm also writing a new play, so who knows what'll happen with that. And a lot of other stuff is brewing. I'm just living the life of a playwright.

Playbill.com: And what advice would you give to other aspiring playwrights who hope to also gain a commercial production?
KF: Well, I think it'd be the same advice whether or not I got my play produced at all. I think the thing that people respond to in my play is that I wrote it from my heart and it's true to me, even in all its quirkiness and oddities. That really is who I am. It took me a long time to really write from my own voice, and not write for an audience or what I thought would work. The theater is a fickle business and you don't know what the audience will love. So write a play that's in your heart, and be prepared for everything and not expect anything.