Palomino Review - Rake and Pony Show at the Kirk Douglas

"Palomino" is both confessional and exuberant.

Rationalizing Sexual Encounters

(Culver City, CA - May 13, 2010)  In his play Palomino, which premiered tonight at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, David Cale portrays seven people in a sensuous tale that follows Kieren McGrath, a beautiful, literate, and mysterious Irish Central Park carriage driver. Kieren dreams of writing a book, and when the opportunity to become an escort to rich, lonely women in New York City comes up, he’s found his subject. Or has he?

The multi-talented Cale is best known for his solo works “A Likely Story,” “Deep in a Dream of You,” “Smooch Music,” “The Redthroats” (which was presented by Center Theatre Group in the 1988 Taper, Too season), and the Obie Award-winning “Lillian.” His monologues have been featured on Public Radio’s “This American Life” and NPR’s “The Next Big Thing.”  His musical, “Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky,” for which he wrote the book, lyrics, co-composed the music and played Floyd, received an Outer Critics Circle nomination for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical.

David Cale's main character is "Kieren," a part-time carriage driver and gigolo.

As a lyricist, his words have been sung by Elvis Costello, Deborah Harry and the Jazz Passengers. As an actor he performed on Broadway in “The Threepenny Opera” and most recently starred in the off-Broadway production of “Mouth to Mouth” at The New Group. He has appeared in films including “Two Lovers,” “Pollock” and most notably, playing the homeless drifter Studebaker in “The Slaughter Rule,” opposite David Morse and Ryan Gosling.

For this world premiere production, scenic design is by Takeshi Kata, costume design by Laura Bauer, lighting design by Beverly Emmons, sound design by Andre Pluess and projection design by Jason H. Thompson. The production stage manager is William Joseph Barnes.

Georja: Palomino centers on the main character of Kieren, a 28 year old, wildly handsome Irish rake who drives a dashing Palomino-drawn horse carriage in Central Park. His charms are both homey and literate and he proclaims he is not the worrying type. His relationships have all been fleeting in the past. So when he has an opportunity to use his talents to thrill a few middle-aged Upper East Side ladies for cash, it appeals to his sense of adventure and easy lifestyle.

David Cale, actor/playwright/director (and NPR commentator)

Gerald:  This play is mostly about intimacy between people who are barely acquainted with one another. So it's also a lot about loneliness. The one deep relationship that's portrayed is Vallie's love for her dead husband, a love she really didn't appreciate when he was alive.

Georja: Cale explores an unlikely pairing with Vallie and Kieren. The lonely widowed Vallie, after much self analyzing and rationalizing about paying for sex, actually starts to fall for Kieren. It seems he too is smitten up to a point. She is the only woman he has ever had deep discussions with and enjoys the company of.  But it is too much for him to deal with. He proclaims that they just do not fit into each other's lives. After his abrupt departure, Vallie is thrown back into a kind of desperate aching for the realness of her marital bond.

Gerald: Cale is engaging, involves the audience. He had me with him most of the time. He's certainly full of energy, and I was reminded of your (Georja's) work as a standup comic and how incredibly challenging it is to carry a show all by yourself. He seemed brave and fearless, and certainly that's what it takes.

"Vallie" is more than delighted with "Kieren's" attentions.

Georja: If we had gone to a storytelling conference, this piece would certainly be seen in all of its genius, and the richness of characters and intertwining of people's lives would be greatly appreciated.  However, the sparseness of this show left a little something to be desired. For one thing, I wish Cale wasn't wearing the plaid flannel shirt as he represented all the characters, the majority of them well drawn women.  Secondly, although this takes place primarily in Manhattan, the main characters are Irish, Australian and English.  The Irish accent is pretty believable, but the Aussie and British seem like blends. Not much flavor of the environment here - didn't seem like New York was much of a factor at all. Put this together with the fact that Cale has a bit of a sweet lilting voice himself, and the ongoing narrative along with the set and costume needed more oomph and variation.  I found my eyes closing a few times and I saw a couple of people checking the time.

Gerald: One-person shows have become a staple of low-budget legitimate theater. When they work, they are totally absorbing, but the audience has to invest all its interest in one person, even if that person gives us several characters, as Cale does. Personally, I'm tired of this form, especially in upscale theaters that can aspire to more. I expect to see a black-box set with projected backdrops in a 99-seat venue, but not at the Kirk Douglas. Hard times have hit the arts, no question, but you have to give the audience more reason to make the trip.

Georja: Cale's writing is clever, and I especially appreciated a few turns of phrase, as when Vallie first meets Kieren, it's as though he "sprinkled Xanax in his voice."  After having sex, she "morphs from a nervous wreck to Barbara Stanwyck in 'Double Indemnity'."  I enjoy the HBO series 'Hung' with a similar theme and have been used to seeing women go through this situation on that show. Kudos to Cale for understanding much about the female psyche, although for me it is more enjoyable to see real women living it out onstage.

Cale uses accent, expressions, and body language to transform himself into NY socialite "Vallie."

Gerald: Cale's performance is admirable. And generous in its gifts of energy and wit. But I find the material mundane and, frankly, soapy. I could sympathize with his characters, but I didn't empathize with them. In the main love story, Kieren comes off as something of a snot (even though he has fits of kindness), and Vallie is your stereotypical jaded socialite (who also is given to fits of kindness). As characters, they didn't give me many insights I could take away.

Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.

Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.

Photos by Craig Schwartz

Center Theatre Group


Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

May 13 - June 6, 2010

Tickets are available by calling (213) 628-2772, online at, in person at the Center Theatre Group box office at the Ahmanson Theatre or two hours prior to performances at the Kirk Douglas Theatre box office.

Friday, May 14, 2010, 8:00 pm
Saturday, May 15, 2010, 2:00 pm
Saturday, May 15, 2010, 8:00 pm
Sunday, May 16, 2010, 1:00 pm
Sunday, May 16, 2010, 6:30 pm
Tuesday, May 18, 2010, 8:00 pm
Wednesday, May 19, 2010, 8:00 pm
Thursday, May 20, 2010, 8:00 pm
Friday, May 21, 2010, 8:00 pm
Saturday, May 22, 2010, 8:00 pm
Sunday, May 23, 2010, 1:00 pm
Sunday, May 23, 2010, 6:30 pm
Tuesday, May 25, 2010, 8:00 pm
Wednesday, May 26, 2010, 8:00 pm
Thursday, May 27, 2010, 8:00 pm
Friday, May 28, 2010, 8:00 pm
Saturday, May 29, 2010, 2:00 pm
Saturday, May 29, 2010, 8:00 pm
Sunday, May 30, 2010, 1:00 pm
Sunday, May 30, 2010, 6:30 pm
Tuesday, June 1, 2010, 8:00 pm
Wednesday, June 2, 2010, 8:00 pm
Thursday, June 3, 2010, 8:00 pm
Friday, June 4, 2010, 8:00 pm
Saturday, June 5, 2010, 2:00 pm
Saturday, June 5, 2010, 8:00 pm
Sunday, June 6, 2010, 1:00 pm
Sunday, June 6, 2010, 6:30 pm

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