‘Cougar:’ On the prowl for audiences, male and female

Playwright Donna Moore has worked off and on for seven years on “Cougar the Musical,” now getting its regional premiere at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte.
Playwright Donna Moore has worked off and on for seven years on “Cougar the Musical,” now getting its regional premiere at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte. COURTESY OF DONNA MOORE

The four-legged cougar (Puma concolor) spends its time hunting, sleeping and mating.

If you believe cultural stereotypes, the two-legged cougar (Femina americana) does the same.

Enter Donna Moore to change our minds. “Cougar the Musical,” now getting its Carolinas premiere at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte, offers older woman in pursuit of men (or pursued by them). But their brains and psyches function as well as their libidos.

“My mission in writing it was to get women to say yes to their sacred value,” Moore said Monday over coffee at Kenilworth Espresso. “I feel like the healing on this planet will come when women really see how valuable they are, and men respond to that.”

She paused. “I know, that sounds really philosophic. But the show isn’t preachy.”

Most shows whose titles include “the musical” aren’t mistaken for sermons, and “Cougar” asks you to laugh before you think. Its three women, each looking not only for love but self-fulfillment, get involved with six guys (played by one actor). One song declares “Love is Ageless”; another has the title “Rip Her Clothes Off.”

Let us answer questions even before you ask. Yes, Moore once dated a guy nine years younger than she, though she has said she “never felt like I was older than he. We were just two people who connected.”

Yes, the show comes from her observations but only indirectly from experience. She’s twice divorced, has two grown children and stands in potential cougar territory in her early 50s.

Yes, the audience tends to be mostly female, though secure guys shouldn’t feel like chickens dancing on an electrified grille. The show seems to affect international audiences the same way it did Americans during a two-year, off-Broadway run: Moore has followed it to Coventry, England, and Seoul, South Korea, and heard men laugh as loudly as women.

The Korean ad urges women, “Be honest with yourself and never mind the others. Be dignified and speak it out. Be blindly hot every single moment! Say Yes!”

Moore isn’t sure about sentence three, but she’s fine with the rest. The fourth is the title of a song in the show and her mantra.

She has employed it since she was in elementary school and danced on the TV show “Zoom” in the 1970s. She credits self-affirmation techniques with helping her beat lupus after the birth of her first child. Her attitude let her turn her divorces into stand-up comedy and a cabaret act.

Her show “The Unbalancing Act” had an 11th-hour number titled “The Cougar.” It inspired a longer piece, “The Cougar Cabaret,” and then “Cougar the Musical,” directed in New York by Tony nominee Lynne Taylor-Corbett (“Swing”). Moore wrote the score, book and lyrics for that show, adding music by four other composers.

“I had this vision of a woman in her 40s who’s going out on a Saturday night after eating dinner in her apartment alone,” she recalls. “We’re all looking for love, for a connection. So while this has broad humor, I didn’t write it to be campy. I always hope the actors will find the humanity in it.”

Moore, who lives in Weehawken, N.J., has worked for seven years on “Cougar” and entertains the idea of turning it into a movie, though she promises we’re not in for “A Cougar Christmas” and other spinoffs. What does she think as she sees it onstage for the 200th time?

“First, I think, ‘I’m a *&^%$#@ funny writer!’ I still like the jokes. Then I think, ‘I hope I’m not a one-hit wonder!’ And I feel honored to have been a conduit for something that reaffirms the indomitable spirit that humans have.

“That sounds like an awards show speech, but it’s how I feel.”

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Cougar the Musical’

Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte does Donna Moore’s comedy about older women, younger men and eternal values.

WHEN: Through June 27 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Also 2:30 p.m. June 21.

WHERE: 650 E. Stonewall St.

TICKETS: $26-$31.

DETAILS: 704-343-2251 or atcharlotte.org.