If a woman over 40 enjoys dating younger men, she’s called a cougar. If a man over 40 enjoys dating younger women, he’s called a man. This is one of the key points made in Cougar: The Musical, currently playing at St. Luke’s Theatre. Written by Donna Moore and directed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, Cougar tells the story of three 40-plus women and their relationships with men no older than 25.
Those three women are Lily (Catherine Porter), Clarity (Brenda Braxton), and Mary-Marie (Babs Winn). Lily is a recent divorcée strapped for cash. She doesn’t seem to have a stable job to speak of, and so she often finds herself working at children’s birthday parties, dressed up as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Clarity has just quit her job as a financial assistant to pursue a master’s degree in female studies from NYU. And Mary-Marie is a veteran cougar (54 years old) who has decided, on an entrepreneurial whim, to open up a cougar bar, where women over 40 can have their pick of any young man they so desire (as long as he’s legal, of course).
The dynamic between the three women is often quite compelling. Lily and Clarity are the last two women one would expect to become cougars. Early on in the show, Lily claims that she has always been attracted to older men because of her need to feel protected (father figure issues, according to her). Clarity, meanwhile, is an ardent feminist who disdains objectification of any kind, and believes that cougars are no less predatory than their male counterparts. But Clarity is keenly fascinated with cougars as a social type, so she uses Mary-Marie as a case study in her ongoing research.
Before long, Lily falls for one of Mary-Marie’s bartenders (Buck, played by Danny Bernardy), while Clarity ends up courting a young man Mary-Marie came across on a cougar dating website. It’s Mary-Marie, in other words – the experienced cougar – who helps facilitate Lily and Clarity’s “cougaring.” While Lily and Clarity have positive experiences with the young studs they date, Mary-Marie undergoes a series of disasters during her dalliances.
So the one who started out a proud cougar ends up faring rather poorly, while the two who initially resisted the cougar label get everything they could have asked for and so much more (i.e. love, not just sex, from a younger man).
Throughout the show, Mary-Marie receives several phone calls from Frank, a kindly gentleman who tries to woo her with expensive dinners and theater tickets, but she refuses his courtship out of principle; after all, Frank is her own age. By the end, Mary-Marie gives in and starts dating Frank, which should come as a relief to those rooting for her: the cougar thing just wasn’t working out for her.
Moore finds a way to bring these three eclectic figures together in a manner that never feels contrived, even if the show itself does feel a bit over the top. Maybe that’s the point. The atmosphere in the theater often feels like a nightclub more than anything else, what with the hot pink lights, along with the audience’s frequent hooting.
Cougar is definitely a girl-power – or more precisely, older-woman-power – show, and it can be pretty corny for that very reason. Cougar is at its best when it strips itself of all sentimentality and feminist pep talk, and just tries to entertain its audience. A prime example: Clarity’s solo “Julio,” where she explains to Mary-Marie why she doesn’t need a man in her life. “Sometimes you just have to leave it to technology,” she says suggestively. Cougar would be a much better musical if it carried more of this sharp, biting wit. One of the main problems with the show, is that it deems itself much edgier, more biting, than it actually is. Much like Mary-Marie’s dalliances, the show’s wit falls flat.
Cougar The Musical
St. Luke’s Theatre
308 West 46th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues