By Daniel Skora
The title of Planet Ant’s current production reads like an answer to one of those story problems teachers give their students to prove that math is much more than an abstract mental exercise. The story problem created by the play’s title goes something like this: A woman (in this case one named Jackie) is 43 years old. Her cat of 18 years (named Fred Astaire) has recently died. At what stage in her life does the woman now find herself if she was to consider getting another cat and it lived for the same amount of time as Freddie?
“One Cat Away From Sixty-One” is the answer to the question and the title of this poignantly amusing play. It deals with one woman’s need to find peace and contentment and another woman’s attempt to help her make that happen. The play opens onto the office of a Dr. Jacobs, and between the twin photographs of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung hanging on the wall, and the two identical sofas staring across at each other like warring armies, it’s obvious that this is not the office of a doctor concerned with the healing of bodies but rather one concerned with the healing of minds.
Jackie (Kez Settle) has come seeking help at the urging of her sister, who maintains that she has become more irritable since the death of her cat. Jackie appears nervous and unsure of herself, calling her sister to assure her that she’s kept her appointment. There’s a hint of a neurosis in Jackie’s personality when she grabs a handful of chocolates from the candy dish and stuffs them into her purse.
The person who she is seeing is Dr. Jacobs (JM Ethridge), a female psychiatrist who practices Freudian analysis. The session begins in typical Freudian manner, with the doctor expecting her patient to speak whatever comes to mind. When that doesn’t work, the format quickly changes to one of questions and answers.
Dr. Jacobs is at times aloof, at others, confrontational. During the course of the session, emotions and events that Jackie has suppressed are slowly but skillfully brought out in the open by the doctor. Much of it is amusing, a good deal heartbreaking. Jackie is basically a good person, and it’s apparent that some of her problems are the result of being more concerned about the feelings of others than those of her own.
“One Cat Away From Sixty One” deals with the quest for love and affection and the emotional problems that can arise out of a clandestine relationship. Though written by a woman (Rikki Schwartz), directed by a woman (Tricia Turek, winner of the Best Director Award at Box Fest 2015), has two women as its only characters, and leans on the age-old stereotype of an unmarried middle-aged woman and her cat(s), its appeal crosses gender lines.
“One Cat Away From Sixty-One” is a taut, captivating play that showcases two excellent performances by Settle and Ethridge. It’s funny, it’s touching, and clocking in at one hour, the length of your average counseling session, this one act never overstays its welcome. Its only anomaly is the coloring of the set. Black walls, a black ceiling and black floor, and black upholstery on the sofas, give an ominous gloom to the proceedings, making this doctor’s office seem like the most unlikely of places for enlightenment to be either dispensed or received.
“One Cat Away From Sixty One” runs through January 30th. Tickets are available online at www.planetant.com or in person at the Planet Ant Box office 30 minutes prior to show time based on availability. Planet Ant is located at 2357 Caniff in Hamtramck.