Cats and Dogs (and Other Tails), Greta Mae Productions, at the Chicago Actors Studio. Imagine being set up on a blind date by your soon-to-be ex-spouse, who then joins you, accompanied by her new lover. That stomach-wrenching situation is the anchor but not the sum total of this quirky, highly original evening. Cherie Vogelstein’s script is sliced into five- to ten-minute scenes, with unrelated improvisation-based monologues inserted between them. Opening-night topics (they change for each performance) varied from feeling retarded in tap class (been there) to eating peanut butter to prevent harsh movie-set lights from giving you cancer. Instead of interrupting the flow, in Second City fashion these non sequiturs create the effect of channel surfing–they’re entertaining little blips while we wait to see how the main story develops. It’s no surprise that director T.J. Jagodowski is a Second City alum who contributed to the second-stage show Holy War, Batman! last winter.

The cast thrives under Jagodowski’s guidance. As blind dates Michael and Annette, Elaine Robinson and Duane Freeman convey genuine panic and vulnerability (though at times their awkwardness feels forced), playing right into the hands of wife Dini (Kate Tash), whose ability to manipulate while maintaining a Who, me? demeanor is a high point. Rounding out the foursome is Brad Gallagher, who counters Freeman’s doofy amiability with muscle-head machismo. Together the performers’ boundless enthusiasm and absolute commitment to their roles compensate for some of the script’s questionable character motivations, making this a strong company debut.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Stacy Morgan.