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Lillian

David Cale is a mischievous, deft and engaging storyteller. In his new solo performance, the actor assumes the role of his title character, "Lillian," an unhappily married middle-aged housewife who enters into a passionate relationship with a younger man.

David Cale is a mischievous, deft and engaging storyteller. In his new solo performance, the actor assumes the role of his title character, “Lillian,” an unhappily married middle-aged housewife who enters into a passionate relationship with a younger man. In a little over an hour, Cale weaves a love story that spans a dozen years, laced with bracing wit and gentle melancholia.

Lillian doesn’t admit to her actual age, and when she writes down the date of her birth, she adds the word “circa.” She could imagine saying good-bye from the moment she met her dullish husband. A loveless marriage leads to an infatuation with Jimmy, a man half her age, “rough around the edges,” with a “bit of the devil in him.” The love story follows the first flush of romance to inevitable separation, sweet remembrance and the numbing ache of loss.

Cale, in remarkable contrast to the manic antique dealer he portrayed in the recent “The Fastest Clock in the Universe,” invests his narrative with the varied colors and shadings of a supple, melodious voice. His tale is told with poise and slow deliberation, and an occasional faint gesture of camp.

Lending an infectious smile to the warming memories of driving along the seaside with Jimmy, and smooching high upon a Brighton Ferris wheel, Cale provides a picturesque locale which very nearly summons a salt-air breeze. He relishes relating the naughty sexual liaisons: “Jimmy provided very good service, like a waiter in a good restaurant.”

Cale, the writer, provides humor with a droll, rather than funny, edge, and the sentimentality, never mawkish, has the sweet, wistful quality of a Noel Coward encounter.

“Lillian” is staged with economy, and Cale’s only props on the tiny, barren stage are a stool and a rear table graced with a vase of bright chrysanthemums. Like Lillian, the golden mums are a metaphor for late bloomers.

Lillian

Solo; New Theater Wing; 72 seats; $25 top

Production: A Playwrights Horizons presentation of a play in one act written and performed by David Cale. Directed by Joe Mantello. Opened June 15, 1998. Reviewed June 14. Running time: 1 HOUR, 5 MIN.

Cast: Set, Robert Brill; lighting, Beverly Emmons; stage manager, Peter B. Waxdal. Playwrights Horizons artistic director, Tim Sanford.

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