MEAN A LOT
by Harvey Perr
Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky
Opened December 5, 2006
at Playwrights Horizons
closes December 17, 2006
Sometimes there are inherent dangers in trying to bring the real thing to the stage. What is the real thing? It is a
work that comes clearly from the heart and is as honest as an already long day is long and is probably based on something that really
happened and wants so very much to tell that story without embellishing it in any way that would cheapen or theatricalize the actual
experience. In such a work, what usually comes through is the genuineness of its deepest feelings, the purity of its expression, an
allegiance to the simplest truths. How could that not be enough?
“Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky,” the little country-inspired play with music, which has taken up residence at
Playwrights Horizons, prompts that question. David Cale, the man largely responsible for the evening – being the author of its
book, its lyricist and (with Jonathan Kreisberg) its composer, and who comprises one half of its cast – is one of those New York theatre
artists whom practically everybody is always rooting for, because, at his best, he is brilliant, and, even at less than his best, he is
appealingly quixotic and oddly likeable.
The story he is telling here is surely one that you have heard before: it’s the one about the burnt-out middle-aged
alcoholic country singer who crosses paths with a clear-eyed, fresh-faced, free-spirited young girl, with enormous star potential, who
sees the good in him and helps him see the good in himself, and then… well, it would be unfair to tell you where it goes from there,
except to say that you’re not likely to be surprised by anything in the narrative that eventually transpires. There will be familiar
bumps along the road and there will be a happy ending. (Why else tell this kind of tale if there is no happy ending?)
It is clearly not the story that is important here. It is all in the telling. And this is where Mr. Cale surprises us
a bit. He tells it pretty much the way it happened, which means that it rambles and meanders and takes its time, and it has nothing but
sweet affection for its two characters and pays scant attention to the tensions and conflicts that might suggest playing around with
their story for dramatic purposes. And, in the end, because of this approach, rather than in spite of it, we come to like these two
people as much as Mr. Cale seems to. Their story may not matter as much to us as it does to him, but the sweetness of their story is
finally deeply affecting.
As Floyd, Cale’s transformation from burnt out case to resurrected mensch is, true to the rhythms of the play, slow
and by degree, and does not reach its transcendent moment until the short evening is nearly at its end. And Cale’s collaborators seem in
total empathy with this style. Mary Faber, as Clea, is not as confident an actor as Cale but she nevertheless registers the same
modesty, and her voice is lovely and unaffected. The music, played by The Floyd and Clea Band, does not strive for rapturous heights but
scores pleasantly within its comfortable confines. The director, Joe Calarco, despite some moments of overreaching cuteness, is not
afraid to keep the pace gentle and unhurried. David Korins, who seems unable to design a set that isn’t downright thrilling, manages to
have a trick or two up his sleeve, revealing them, when he does, in a quietly magical way.
The problem (and, sad to say, it is not a small problem) is that, in remaining true to the spirit this play is after,
quite a few cliches pop up, as they might in life, and one can’t help but wish that they might have been avoided. When the subject
of AA rears its too familiar head, for example, it is fairly amazing that a collective groan does not emanate from the patient audience.
Still, room should be made in our progressively jaded and noisy theatre for works like this, works that are small-scale and tender and