With David Cale's Palomino, the KC Rep scores again 

The new Kansas City Repertory Theatre has racked up yet another illustrious first. Halfway through Palomino, David Cale's world-premiere play about a carriage-driver gigolo and the Manhattan women who prize his expertise, I almost applauded an orgasm.

In a silent theater.

Such is the command of David Cale, perhaps the most accomplished performer I have seen in a one-man show in Kansas City. Cale's specialty is capturing moments -- the small ones that accumulate into a life and the large ones that change it. He invests each with the detail of a novel even as he works the sum of them into something like the numbers in a musical.

In one such moment, a nervous widow is thrown to the floor by the gigolo. She sees her dress fly overhead, spots a coffee mug beneath her sofa, thinks of her husband and his "overly considerate, domesticated lovemaking," and then somehow relaxes enough to enjoy her first orgasm in 11 years. Writer-director Cale relates this in monologue, trusting face, voice and words to do all the work. They do, marvelously. Though not explicit, the scene captures the swell and power of sexual release -- blunt and gentle, it actually feels like what it's about. The result is a rare occurrence in a culture as prim yet exploitation-hungry as ours: sex presented honestly. Soon, the widow thinks again of her husband and then again of that orgasm she hadn't had with him. Then she reveals, with exquisite softness, "All this time I thought it was me."

Sharing the story of Kieran, a thirty-ish Irishman, and his clients, mostly aging Upper West Siders coping with what one describes as "sexual invisibility," Cale plays five major roles, male and female, straight and gay, cocksure and hemmed-in. His writing penetrates them all. In performance, his characterizations are subtle and precise. His people seem to inhabit him, and they have the decency not to make a big thing about proving it.

In monologues that wittily reflect one another, Cale's characters confide, consider and get caught up in those moments. Kieran rhapsodizes about the view of Manhattan from a widow's apartment. Much later, that same widow wanders into the ocean, weeping. She sees the sun slide off a cloud, sees a shoal of fish catch the light and glitter. In this moment, Cale finds another climax, one both joyous and sad, one I won't spoil.

Unlike most writers who take on the oldest profession, Cale understands that the johns – or janes – are at least as interesting as the whores. This horse-tending, Rilke-reading gigolo is an inspired creation, but Cale lets him narrate only the first quarter of the show. For most of the remainder, he plays women who can't believe what they've found themselves daring to do – and then can't believe how good it feels and how difficult it is not to fall, stupidly, for something impossible.

This also relieves an unfortunate quirk of audience imagination: We're willing to buy Cale as older women, but for some reason, imagining this middle-aged performer as a young buck was too much for several patrons I overheard afterward. (Of course, they looked older than him.)

Other characters crop up, too, pushing the story in surprising directions, sometimes taking their sweet time to divulge their connection to Kieran. But Cale's heart is with the clients, lonely souls who crave physical contact but have no easy path to it. If anyone feeling like that happens to read this, please be warned. Going to Palomino might inspire you to ring up an escort.

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