Sunday, May 22, 2016

9. Review: CAL IN CAMO (seen May 16, 2016)

"A House Divided"

Stars range from 5-1.
William Francis Hoffman’s Cal in Camo, being given its world premiere at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in a joint production with Colt Coeur, is a well-acted, naturalistic, emotionally taut, kitchen-sink drama peppered with ambiguity. It has lots of beer, a rare rifle, marital dysfunction, sibling tensions, postpartum depression, partial nudity, a deer, and a raging storm, not to mention a giant sinkhole threatening to swallow the whole enterprise. Some of it is straightforward, some is surreal, some is funny, and some is opaque. 
Cal (Katya Campbell, piercingly sharp) and her husband, Tim (David Harbour, achingly desperate), have bought a house on the edge of a forest not far from Chicago. Cal’s dry breasts are sore from trying to pump milk for her newborn although she says she feels nothing for her. Tim’s a struggling beer salesman who left his job in Chicago at Cal's urging to work for a rural company with a line of fruit-flavored beer. The local folk, to his dismay, prefer the local brand, and he's none too happy about having left Chicago.
Katya Campbell, David Harbour. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
David Harbour, Katya Campbell. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The news that Cal’s brother, Flynt (Paul Wesley, sensitively grungy), is on his way ratchets up the torque in Cal and Tim’s strained relationship. Flynt’s wife, Annabelle, recently drowned in the flooded river abutting their trailer. Despite Tim’s disdain for the guy, Cal, herself a neglected child, tells Tim, whose abundant family she resents: “He’s my family and he’s all the frickin’ family I got and right now I feel like I could use a little family . . .” Soon after Flynt’s arrival we learn that the house was built on a sinkhole. 
Katya Campbell, Paul Wesley. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
When Tim talks to the woodsy Flynt—dressed in camouflage overalls—he turns out to be not so bad after all, especially once he expresses a taste for Tim’s beer. He also notes that Tim’s dirty, antique Remington rifle, which he’s never used, is worth a lot of money (information that the play does little to exploit). Things turn dark when Flynt, a hunter preoccupied with a Polaroid of a huge buck he once killed, spots a doe in the woods; as a storm erupts he pursues her with the rifle.  Later, soaked and wearing only his filthy long johns, he recounts a weird tale about the deer drowning in the sinkhole. The play stumbles along through a murky fog of symbolism toward an oddly touching conclusion in which Cal’s discarded camo plays an unexpected role.
Paul Wesley, David Harbour. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Designer John McDermott uses a revolve to show both the house’s kitchen and rear porch. Sueann Leung’s everyday costumes are what these people would wear, Amy Altadonna’s sound design brings the storm to life, and Grant Yeager’s lighting makes that storm and everything else look right. Adrienne Campbell-Holt’s mostly smart staging (there are one or two questionable moments) creates an atmosphere of mild suspense as we ponder where all this is leading us.
Paul Wesley, Katya Campbell. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Cal in Camo teeters too often near symbolism's slippery sinkhole; I also don't buy how Hoffman handles the resolution of Flynt's issues (the way he departs toward the end in his muddy underwear is particularly puzzling). But the play's savory dialogue and credible performances grasp you tightly enough to keep you involved throughout its 70 intermissionless minutes.

Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre
224 Waverly Place, NYC
Through June 12