Machismo? It's complicated in David Cale's Palomino and Impact's The Play About the Naked Guy
Kieran McGrath, a carefree 32-year-old Irishman living in New York City, would like to be a writer someday. In the meantime, he has a temporary job subbing for a friend as a carriage driver in Central Park. Its fortuitous, because the material for his first book will conveniently climb into the back of his palomino-drawn carriage in the form of an upscale pimp named Marsha and the series of rich and lonely Manhattan women she represents.
McGrath's perspective on this unexpected line of work has a good deal of compassion and humor-laced insight to it, but playwright-performer David Cale's one-man show, Palomino, takes us more than once around the park. With a facility for characterization, dialogue, and storytelling that draws one in slowly and surely, Cale unfolds a globetrotting tale of desire and connection from a variety of distinct perspectives, with McGrath's alone being male heterosexual. By the end, the play achieves a subtle but affecting blurring of lines, as themes of love, solitude, and aging inform a disparate set of vivid personalities.
It's more than a decade since British-born actor and playwright Cale mounted a show locally (the Obie Award–winning Lillian in 1999). Especially given the recent resurgence in solo theater, Cale's return to the Bay Area in Aurora Theatre's simple, elegant production feels timely. His work stands out from much of the solo theater landscape in being decidedly not about himself, but rather the story and characters he has in his head. Despite the actor's physical dissimilarity to most of the people he plays, he delivers well-rounded and compelling characters. His women are especially attractive — not least the rich but fragile and searching widow, Vallie, one of McGrath's clients, with whom he has a short but full-blown love affair.
A low-key but masterful performer, Cale displays a lot of love and understanding for his flawed characters, embodying them with supple charm on scenic designer Kate Boyd's graceful stained-wood set, which swoops up and away toward a screen at the back of the stage. There, Rick Takes' projected images offer choice visual compliment to the story's continent-hopping narrative. Heartfelt and at moments a little gooey, the play nevertheless avoids tawdry romantic mush for a gentle, gliding look at the fears and gathering pain beneath lives largely spent skimming the surfaces of things, only every once in a while daring something deeper.
"You can't do this! It will be the death of Integrity!" And not a moment too soon.
Not that we're unsympathetic to this outburst by Dan (an endearingly silly Brian McManus), the stuffy but passionate artistic director of a puny, unpopular Off-Off-Broadway company, the previously-referenced Integrity Players. But given the sampling of Integrity in action — a painfully earnest and self-righteous set of classical gestures that opens, with much winking hilarity, this zinging new comedy by playwright David Bell — it's hard not to be thankful for the jolt Dan gets to his artistic sensibilities, not to mention his fragile theater-family composed of stalwart star (a sharp Jai Sahai), visibly pregnant wife and lead actress (a temptingly innocent Eliza Leoni), and disdainful producer and mother-in-law (a riotously larger-than-life Monica Cappuccini).
The jolt, incidentally, comes courtesy of his new producing partners, the box office geniuses behind such gay flesh outings as Naked Boys Running Around Naked and I Am My Own Whore. With financial problems of their own, the crafty Eddie (John Ferreira) and his pair of preening club-boy sycophants, T. Scott (Adrian Anchondo) and Edonis (Timitio Artusio), have moved into Integrity's little turf to, as Dan puts it, "Fuck art right up the ass." In tow is their box-office bait, porn star Kit Swagger (a swaggering Steven Satyricon), titular titillator for Eddie's latest extravaganza, an (even more) homoerotic staging of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.
Impact Theatre, which premieres The Play About the Naked Guy in its aptly seedy basement theater beneath a Berkeley pizza parlor, has a proven way with this kind of material. Directed with anarchic élan and requisite comical definition by Evren Odcikin, Naked Guy turns ably on stripper poles as well as a nicely off-the-shelf but just-true-enough clash between artistic truth and lowest-denominator mass entertainment. The real draw is in the camp, however, played to the hilt, and compellingly enough that it's easy to echo Dan's wife and mother-in-law in their rapt engagement with the trashy side: "This is fun! I wanna be gay too!"
"We all do, dear."
Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m.;
Tues., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 5; $10–$55
2081 Addison, Berk.
THE PLAY ABOUT THE NAKED GUY
Thurs.–Sat., 8pm (no show Nov. 25); through Dec. 11; $10–$20
La Val's Subterranean
1304 Euclid, Berk.