Mary Faber and David Cale
in Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky
(© Joan Marcus)
Mary Faber and David Cale
in Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky
(© Joan Marcus)
In previous works, such as Lillian and Betwixt, Obie Award-winner David Cale has shown a penchant for finely detailed and at times off-kilter observations of lives that at first may not seem so extraordinary. In his new musical, Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky at Playwrights Horizons, the writer/performer seems poised to continue this study. However, this disappointing work only intermittently capitalizes on its promise. In fact, the show could do with more quirkiness and less sentimentality.

The two-hander, which features book and lyrics by Cale and music by Cale and Jonathan Kreisberg, follows the unlikely friendship between Floyd (Cale), a down-and-out alcoholic singer-songwriter living out of his car, and Clea (Mary Faber), a young up-and-coming talent who takes the time to get to know him. Floyd's journey is the more detailed of the two. Cale's portrayal of the character is reminiscent of a wounded bird, nearly making you wince because of the sympathetic pain it inspires. As he struggles towards recovery, Floyd says, "I realized I was in love with life to such a degree that I was shy and awkward around it." It's this kind of poignant observation that demonstrates the potential of the work, but unfortunately it's a rare occurrence.

Clea's character is left largely undeveloped. We never really understand what drew her to Floyd in the first place, although it's suggested that he reminds her of her deceased father. Her Mormon background is given only the slightest of lip service, and mainly used to establish that she doesn't like to swear. Her move to L.A. and its corrupting influence is far too clichéd, and the reversal of roles that occurs between Floyd and Clea seems trite and unconvincing. The show concludes with a feel-good ending that Cale seems to want to satirize, with the characters observing that it "feels like the last scene in a movie or something." Yet, the sentimentality quotient by this point in the show is so high that any satiric intentions are blunted.

All of the songs in Floyd and Clea are diegetic, with the characters performing them for an audience in a club, for each other, or sometimes for themselves. One of them, "Linger Awhile," is heard only on a recording and is never sung live. The score's best song, "White Cowboy Hat," is reminiscent of a Harry Chapin tune, and Cale sings it with the same kind of plaintive quality that makes Chapin's songs so affecting. True, Cale doesn't demonstrate much of a range in terms of vocal ability, but his voice suits the folksy country music that Floyd prefers to sing.

In contrast, Faber's voice is much more dynamic. The numbers she's given to sing are more rock-driven, and she makes a strong impression with her first solo, "Greedy." If the rest of her later songs aren't particularly memorable, it may have more to do with the generic musical composition than any fault of the singer.

The show is backed by an onstage four man band, featuring Dylan Schiavone, Jimmy Heffernan, Brad Russell, and Bill Campbell. They are very much a part of the action, and occasionally even get to say a line or two.

Scenic designer David Korins has done his usual fine job of creating stylish, evocative settings. However, he does appear to be repeating himself a bit, as the snow-encased look that he's given portions of the set in Floyd and Clea is nearly identical to his design for Now That's What I Call a Storm. Costume designer Anne Kennedy, lighting designer Chris Lee, and sound designer Ken Travis have also done good work.

And yet, there's something crucial missing. Cale, along with director Joe Calarco, has not fully tapped into the passions that drive the characters. As a result, the musical comes across as strangely hollow.