David Cale wrote, directed and stars in Palomino at the Aurora Theatre Company. Photos by David Allen.
David Cale is a perfectly attractive human being – he’s got great posture, a receding hairline and a beautifully expressive face. But once you fall under his spell as a storyteller – and you will fall under his spell – he becomes vivid, physically varied characters without doing much more than manipulating his mellifluous voice and holding his lean body differently.
Over the course of 95 minutes in the beguiling Palomino now at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company, Cale becomes, among others, a sexy Irish horse-drawn carriage driver in his early 30s, an Australian widow in late middle age and a super-sexy blonde British babe.
And he’s utterly believable as all of them.
Cale wrote, directed and stars in Palomino, the story of Kieren, one of Central Park’s best looking carriage drivers, and how he inadvertently became a gigolo to some of Manhattan’s upper-crust ladies.
The play started out as a short radio play on NPR’s The Next Big Thing and has evolved into a one-man play populated by seven characters – men, women, straight, gay, uptight and not so uptight.
Cale’s gift as a storyteller is his focus on story over character. He does just enough acting to effectively transform himself into the people populating his story, but he never relinquishes the reigns as our chief storyteller. The stage may seem to fill with personalities, but Cale’s remains chief among them.
He’s the gifted writer in charge who can paint a character in just a few deft strokes. Kieren, the Irish rogue who fancies his adventure as a gigolo will make a fine novel one day, reveals complicated depths. His blessing in life, he tells us, is that he doesn’t worry. And Vallie, the widow he begins to fall for, emerges as the kind of woman you want to have drinks with.
Vallie is having a hard time breaking out of her old life. She has “joined the ranks of the sexually invisible” and realizes that her marriage, which was loving but lacking in passion, was something she took too much for granted. Through her interaction with Kieren – including a steamy first encounter on the living room floor – she wakes up to herself and, in her words, drops a bomb on her old life so she can start again with the durable pieces (and friends) that survived the blast.
Vallie’s story is the heart of the show, though Kieren’s erotic adventures are the motor that turns this particular carousel. The plot does indeed turn in interesting directions, taking us full circle into several different love stories, all of which link back to the carriage drawn by a gorgeous Palomino mare.
On a simple, graceful set by Kate Boyd, Heather Basarab’s lights help create a scintillating mood, while Rick Takes’ projections set the scene (a Big Sur beach, Central Park, Malta) and clarify the character roster.
The production elements are minimal because Cale is the ultimate special effect. He trots through Palomino at a mesmeric pace. Watching a love scene unfold between Kieren and Vallie is a marvel as Cale switches genders as effortlessly as he toggles between the Irish and the Australian accents.
By the end of Palomino, we’ve been on an intimate adventure that feels epic in its emotions. This is one of those solo shows that feels as substantial as a fully cast play because Cale as writer, storyteller and actor (in that order) grabs our full attention. He doesn’t take advantage of that control, but neither does he let us go until his wondrous story has been told.
Here’s a glimpse of Cale working his magic during the world premiere run last year at Kansas City Repertory Theatre.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
David Cale’s Palomino continues through Dec. 5 at the Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $34-$45. Call 510 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.