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A CurtainUp Review
Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky

There's many things I want to do
and I'm not givin' up so easily
One road starts at twenty
Another road begins at forty three
It's all one big adventure
A gift with no guarantees
Sometimes I feel I've got the best'And then it gets the best of me
— Floyd singing "Safety Net", which sums up the hopes that make him feel reckless enough to leave the old Studebaker that's become his safety net for coping with the despair that made him abandon his singing career.

David Cale and Mary Faber (Photo: Joan Marcus)
As romantic love often blooms for couples who don't fit the traditional bride and groom image, so it is with friendship. Take raring to take life by storm Clea Johnson (Mary Faber) and David Duffner (David Cale), a country western singer who has retreated from life and seems to be waiting for death to come knocking on the door of the old Studebaker he has been calling home for three years. She's twenty. He's twice her age. She's a Mormon. He's an alcoholic.

But for all their differences, the title characters of Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky, which just opened at Playwrights Horizon, become buddies. Once Clea breaks through Floyd's I want to be left alone stance her declaration "I think you and I are gonna be friends for life" isn't as far out as it would at first appear to be. You see, she too is a country western singer (her middle name is Merle!) and it's hearing Floyd play his guitar as she passes his car parked on the side of a snow covered Montana road that makes her ignore his curmugeonly manner to reach out to him. Like Floyd, and despite her youth, she has demons to battle. When she sings for him, he's impressed. And so are we — not just with Clea's singing but with Floyd's (the show actually opens with him at the mike in a Texas club three years earlier). Both Faber's and Cale's superb singing and the songs (lyrics by Cale and music co-written by Cale and Jonathan Kreisberg) are integral to the pleasures of this modest little charmer about friendship and redemption.

Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky is about as intimate as a musical can get. It would probably be more accurately classified as a play with music. Call it what you will, it's a beguiling little show that's so beautifully staged and performed that you forgive its hokeyness.

While Faber and Cale are the only actors we see throughout the intermissionless hour and forty minutes, the four-piece band that's on stage with them more than makes up for the lack of other characters. Chris Lee's red hot lighting of the musicians' strategically positioned band shell makes them more than a band but a symbolically warm visual counterpoint to the snow covered corner of Montana where Floyd and Clea's friendship begins.

The book, also written by the multi-talented Cale, is structured to feel like one of those much done buddy road trips, but it manages to sidestep the obvious. Once Clea gets Floyd to listen to her sing and persuades him to perform at a local high school concert, their paths actually diverge for several years. Clea heads for Hollywood about a month after they meet and the Studebaker is mainly there as Floyd's homeless shelter which, like him, gets spruced up enough to be in functional condition. Mr. Cale also doesn't yield to facile May-December happy endings but neither does he spoil the toe-tapping mood of the music with a depressing finale.

The British born Cale, best known for his solo performance pieces like Lillian , has written some of the more insightful bits of dialogue for himself which he delivers in an authentic down home Southern accent: for example, there's his heartbreaking self analysis ("I can't deal with Life!. . .I'm not equipped."), his advice to Clea to listen to her instincts ("Just saddle 'em up and see where they take you.") and his comment on aging ("I think your least desirable character traits can get more pronounced, and if you're not careful, they can start bullyin' your more attractive features into submission.")

This is a story that demands that you accept it as a hokey modern fairy tale (though the lyrics can be slily edgy). If I have any complaints, it's that having parts of what happens to Floyd and Clea related via Floyd's show and tell to fellow Alcoholics Anonymous members is occasionally a bit confusing. Fortunately, Joe Calarco ( R & J and more recently the regional premiere of Burnt Part Boys) is too good a director to allow this to become distracting. One of the smartest moves by the creative team is to use the music as a fitting crowning touch to the characters' separate journeys, with Floyd and Clea finally singing together rather than solo as they do throughout the play.

True to the lyrics of that final duet, "We're In it For the Long Haul", Floyd and Clea are clearly "gonna do just fine" —and anyone who appreciates small musicals, big on quirky, well performed characters, with catchy songs and lovely production values, will do just fine buying a ticket to Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky.

Book & lyrics by David Cale
Music by Jonathan Kreisberg
Directed by Joe Calarco
Cast: David Cale as Floyd Duffner & Mary Faber as Clea Johnson
Sets: David Korins
Costumes: Anne Kennedy
Lights: Chris Lee,
Sound: Ken Travis
Music direction& Orchestrations: Jonathan Kreisberg
The Band: Guitars/Piano—Dylan Schiavone; Dobro/Pedal Steel—Jimmy Heffernan; Acoustic/Electric Bass—Brad Russell; Drums/Percussion—Bill Campbell
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission
Playwrights Horizon, 416 West 42nd Street, (212) 279-4200
From November 10, 2006 to December 17, 2006; opening December 5
Tuesdays through Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 2:30 & 8PM and Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 PM
Tickets: $65 &mdash—. HOTtix, $20 rush tickets, subject to availability, day of performance only, starting one hour before showtime to patrons aged 30 and under; $15 STUDENT RUSH, starting one hour before curtain to full-time graduate and undergraduate students.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on December 1st press preview
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • burntango1@ /Floyd
  • One Foot in the Real World / Floyd
  • I Dread the Night /Floyd
  • Greedy /Clea
  • Safety Net /Floyd
  • I'll Be Your Secret/ Clea
  • Can I Stay Awhile?/ Floyd
  • Linger Awhile /Floyd
  • Help's on the Way/ Clea
  • White Cowboy Hat /Floyd
Act Two
  • A Simple Life / Floyd
  • White Cowboy Hat/ (reprise) Clea
  • Would You Give a Damn? /Clea
  • Left Hook/Floyd and Clea
  • Were in it for The Long Haul/ Floyd and Clea
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