British-born monologuist David Cale’s characters attach themselves to an audience with tendril-like delicacy, offering cautious invitation to a world both rarefied and familiar.
“Somebody Else’s House” echoes the themes and subtly surreal tonal range of 1990’s “Deep in a Dream of You.” While that much-traveled evening had passages of greater resonance, the 11 miniatures here should further expand this unique performer’s following.
The somewhat precious framing figure is Qui Qui, a toddler voice unhappily stuck inside an adult straitjacketed by conformity and fear. A closing soliloquy much reminiscent of “Deep’s” finale — though lacking its transcendent force — offers a laundry list of reasons for living in the moment. This instinctual id triumphs, at least momentarily, by restoring his keeper’s awareness that “it could all be over tomorrow … (that) he himself was alive.”
That “inner child” perspective makes tangible the struggles of Cale’s other characters, none of whom regret risks taken for good or ill. In “Sissy,” a Texas man-child adopts a stray wild duck, whose out-of-water status reflects his own; aping actress Sissy Spacek in “Badlands,” man and duck set fire to the family home and hit the open road.
Even more blatantly allegorical is “A Trace of Panic,” whose nameless hero must shake off borrowed characteristics to forge his own identity amid a cartoon pop-psych landscape.
Other outcasts include brogue-tongued Martin, searching for “A Little Piece of God” after marital discord; the delightfully gruff female “Dandy” who always “fancied myself more as Oscar Wilde than Barbie”; and a middle-aged groupie whose trophy-talk of Leonard Cohen, James Taylor, etc., comes wrapped in hilarious self-satisfaction.
The longest narrative, “This Jimmy Thing,” finds housewife Lillian eschewing dull monogamy for a dangerous liaison with a much younger man, only to discover she’s best off alone.
The title sequence provides Cale’s sharpest moment of insight. In it, a gay man confides that lifelong fear of public exposure has rendered him a virtual prisoner –“living in the world as if it were somebody else’s house.”
Two sketches need further development. The suicidal “Man on the Ledge” undergoes a spiritual rebirth too vague and hastily drawn to carry intended impact. And the preening hunk (blessed with “the kind of ass that makes people want to turn into chairs”) admiring himself in a bathroom “Warm Mirror” never gets beyond glib caricature.
Apparently self-directed (no credit is given), the evening maintains sharp, fluid performance focus throughout. Cale’s deft writing and onstage metamorphoses make these 80 minutes fly by, even if the stories as a whole inhabit a middle ground. “Deep’s” more traumatic and exultant extremes are missed.
While eminently satisfying on its own terms, “Somebody Else’s House” suggest Cale might push creative boundaries best by next returning to the full-length narrative form not explored since 1986’s poignantly autobiographical “The Redthroats.”