Palomino,” monologist David Cale’s new work at the Kirk Douglas, gives ironic new meaning to the phrase “Manhattan carriage trade.” Apparently, Irish hansom cab drivers in Central Park are much in demand among lonely society matrons with money to burn and an empty arm at gala functions. Cale portrays one such stud-for-hire and six people who enter his orbit, and the result is deeply satisfying, combining the incisiveness of psychological fiction with the immediacy of the theatrical event.When a jaunty, vintage Sinatra fedora transforms the unassuming, pale Cale into strapping buckoKieren, he regales us with his gigolo exploits across two continents in the shy yet cocksure manner patented on film by Colin Farrell — who, as it happens, is mentioned as ideal casting when Kieren’s erotic memoirs start getting shopped around. Our hero seems most courtly and selfless in his amours but soon abandons that character for face time with three clients — insecure divorcee Ruby; lovely, unlucky Trish; lost, grieving widow Vallie — whose stories, now told from the women’s viewpoints, keep shifting our perspective in subtle ways. Toss in Cale’s tricks with time, in which he acts out flashback moments whose meaning is revealed only later on, and you’ve got a recipe for grownup entertainment confident in the audience’s willingness to pay attention and connect the dots. Truth be told, Cale’s acting gifts fall short of his writing and helming ones. It’s a good thing we can tell the characters apart by their accents, for they’re all given similar vocal rhythms and aren’t much differentiated physically. But the text is so trenchant, and Cale’s identification with each role so complete, he escorts us right to his desired emotional destination: nothing tragic, but exquisitely moving and sad. “Palomino,” first unveiled at Kansas City Rep, gets added magic gloss from Jason Thompson’s projections and Beverly Emmons’ lighting. And if you thought the Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly” was ravishing in the movie “Once,” you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Kirk Douglas Theater, Culver City;317 seats; $45 top
A Center Theater Group presentation of a play in one act written, directed and performed by David Cale.
Sets, Takeshi Kata; costumes, Laura Bauer; lighting, Beverly Emmons; projections, Jason H. Thompson; sound, Andre Pluess; production stage manager, William Joseph Barnes. Opened May 13, 2010. Reviewed May 15. Closes June 6. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.