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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
CAL IN CAMO
at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater

CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU NEED
By JESSICA BRANCH

  Paul Wesley and David Harbour/ Ph: Carol Rosegg

Nobody seems to be getting what they need in this new family drama by William Francis Hoffman. Tim (David Harbour), a rumpled Chicago salesman with an unexpected poetic streak, isn’t getting sales – and he’s miserable in the development out in the sticks where his wife has insisted moving. His newborn baby daughter isn’t getting her mother’s milk – or love or attention. And his wife, the Cal of the title (Katya Campbell), who grew up in a series of foster homes, isn’t getting the satisfaction or sense of fulfillment she thought settling down to family life would bring her. On the contrary, she’s haunted by her fears of falling short, as the bruises on the breasts she’s been trying desperately to drain with a breast pump gruesomely attest. Enter Cal’s taciturn woodsman brother, Flynt (Paul Wesley), whose wife has just drowned in a river, and you have a whole household packed with loss and longing.
 
At Cal’s insistent urging, the reluctant Flynt has come to this unhappy house ostensibly to receive her condolences. But Cal’s undersocialized brother is not a favorite with Tim, and his arrival threatens to tip the balance in the uneasy little family. The more Cal frets that her inability to breastfeed her baby stems from her incapacity to bond with the infant, the more she tries to mother her grieving brother. And the laconic observations she gets from Flynt in return – about her home, about the nature of family – are as unwelcome as they are, ultimately, true.   
 
The world premiere of Cal in Camo, a joint production of Colt Coeur and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, pulls out all the stops. Lovingly directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt (How to Live on Earth, Dry Land,) it features an accomplished cast and, thanks to John McDermott, an impressive and evocative set that faithfully details both the inside and outside of this unloved suburban house. And if the folding lawn chair and tea cups seem almost too typical, that’s just indicative of how determined Cal is to enact what she sees as the American dream.
 
Cal in Camo treads familiar territory, and its use of natural forces to highlight and comment on the characters’ personal conflicts evokes the early works of Sam Shepard. But if the play’s concerns feel familiar, it’s because they’re enduring, and the talented ensemble makes the most of the particulars they’re given here. Campbell (Disgraced) is a powerhouse of frustration, even as she attempts to comfort her uninterested brother, and her new-parent snappishness with her exhausted husband feels fraught even before we realize that it’s fueled by more than the normal sleeplessness and anxiety. Wesley (Fallen, The Vampire Diaries) is effectively dysfunctional as Cal’s outlier brother, treading the line between social awkwardness and surrealism with surprising sureness.
 
But it’s Harbour (The Newsroom, Tony award nominee for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) who’s the real standout here. We see him first in professional mode, trying to sell a rough-around-the-edges bartender (Gary Leimkuhler) on the frou-frou novelty beer he’s forced to hawk, and Harbour plumbs the richer depths of even this largely comic interchange, making good use of Tim’s almost poetic pitch. But his exaltation leads clearly into the exasperated, overtired father and husband we see in the next scene, trying not to fight with his wife – and even to the Tim who, against the odds, manages at last to find some degree of connection with his problematic brother-in-law. His character’s arc – as he, too, learns about how families work and don’t – may be subtler than that of Cal, but it’s nonetheless moving, and perhaps more relatable since he hadn’t realized that he had any lessons about family still left to learn. And if his longings still aren’t likely to be fulfilled anytime soon, at least he, like his wife and child, aren’t alone any more.

 


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