October 30, 2009

A career in love
by Greg Boyle

Kansas City Repertory Theatre is currently featuring Palomino, a world premiere event. It is a one-man show written, directed and performed by David Cale. In keeping with Artistic Director Eric Rosen’s vision of bringing newer and edgier theatre to the Rep, Palomino is a two-hour dissertation on sex. That’s being glib, of course, because Cale’s performance is really a storytelling masterpiece. It is full and rich in color and detail, with insights about life and death, love and longing, youth and aging, greed and generosity. It just happens to be about a gigolo.

David Cale in his one-man show, Palomino. (photo by Don Ipock)

Cale is a renaissance man who has written enough monologues to have a collection published by Vintage Books; performed them on the radio, written song lyrics and music for recording artists, acted on stage and movies, and won a number of Obies, ASCAPlus Awards, as well as other accolades.

His story in Palomino revolves around Kieran, an Irish immigrant who drives a horse carriage in Central Park in New York. By a series of unexpected circumstances, Kieran finds himself the object of the attention of a woman who makes him an offer he can’t refuse.

Kieran possesses the qualities that many women, particularly those who have reached a certain age, admire most. Besides being stunningly handsome with piercing blue eyes, he is sensitive to others’ feelings, reads poetry and knows a little about art. He always seems to find a way to put people at ease. And that’s without even mentioning his sexual prowess.

Actually, there are really very few sexual passages in Palomino. Even these are not as erotic as passages from a Jacqueline Susann novel, and they are so beautifully and simply spoken that the women in the audience were giggling and sighing. There were no awkward silences.

Cale uses the story of Kieran to speculate on the power of the sexual act itself. Cale asserts that women have desire just as strongly as men, especially when released from the fears of pregnancy and society’s opprobrium. However, he also recognizes that the intimacy of the act breaks down inhibitions like a drug and can make people act outside of their best interests.

When Kieran recognizes that he’s losing personal focus, he takes flight. He says, “People are like birds circling the sky looking for a place to land. I’m comfortable staying in the sky.” Birds are a recurring image in Cale’s play.

Cale himself is physically unimpressive. He is a slight man, not exactly good looking, bald, and slightly round-shouldered. His presence doesn’t light up the stage. His different women characters are physically indistinguishable and his female mannerisms don’t work at all. You don’t learn that Kieran is handsome and hunky until halfway through the play. You have been left believing that women are falling for what we are seeing onstage in Cale’s person. In addition, at the very end, Cale presents a character that we are told is immediately recognizable as gay. However, we don’t know he’s gay until we’re told.

But none of this criticism matters. Cale is a storyteller! He is a writer and a talker, not an accomplished actor. His voice is so rich and expressive that you believe everything he says without question. Every moment of Palomino had the audience waiting to hear the next word. We are awash in the fabulous prose, hoping to catch the next poetic phrase that Cale might slip in unannounced.

Palomino should not be shocking for anyone who has lived through the 20th century. There are a few f-words, but not many. Like a good playwright, Cale gives us lessons and meaning drawn from the life of a person few of us would ever have crossed paths with.

Palomino is playing at the Copaken Stage of the Kansas City Rep, which is located in the H&R Block building at 13th and Walnut. Palomino will play through Nov. 15. Call the box office at 816-235-2700, or go to the website at

Greg Boyle can be contacted at