Saturday, November 6, 2010

"Palomino": ☼ ☼ ☼ SUGAR LUMP

There are shows you see and afterwards they seem more than they seemed at the time. And there are those you really like when you see them and the next day you can't exactly remember why. "Palomino," a solo performance by writer and actor David Cale, falls somewhere in the middle.

He plays an Irish gigolo named Kieran McGrath, who somehow has gotten hired to be a male prostitute, catering to a clientele of middle-aged, wealthy New York women. We are asked to believe that this small, balding actor is a burbling cauldron of sexual desire. Every woman that meets him is knocked ga-ga, falling open legged at his advances.

Cale is so good that he damned near pulls it off. His lead character is someone of supreme confidence, happy to be a foreigner in New York City. His clients love it when he talks dirty to them in an Irish accent.

But he is more brilliant when he plays the various women with whom he has had relationships, both for hire and for fun. His Vallie, whose story is really the central one in this show, is someone we start off pitying and end up cheering. Likewise, the "nerd-in-a-pretty-blonde's-body" with whom Kieran manages to have sex behind a rock while Vallie is sleeping, is someone we see in a different interrelated light later on. It is particularly entertaining when the characters' stories overlap.

We could do without the ending -- but you can decide how you feel about that. We're not sure what this final relationship is supposed to suggest. The power of love? Attraction? The aphrodisiac of horses? All three, maybe.

We live in the best solo-performance town in America. One of the true blessings of David Cale is he does not follow the popular emote-at-all-costs formula. We do not anticipate what is coming, and since there is basically no staging, nor costuming -- and just a few video backdrops which add very little --it is quite pleasant to be surprised by the twists and turns in the story.


But how to rate this show! It is more than two stars and less than four stars, but is probably somewhat better than three. So -- the San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Palomino" Three Stars with a Lump of Sugar. The sugar is for the horse. Kieran McGrath apparently gets plenty of sugar and doesn't need any more from us.

Aurora Theater
2081 Addison St., Berkeley
Through December 5

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