It has been a long time coming, but downtown New Paltz finally has a small-scale professional theater, dedicated to bringing challenging new plays to audiences in an intimate black-box setting. And if its inaugural production, William Francis Hoffman’s Cal in Camo, is any indication of the level of professionalism that we can expect, Denizen Theatre seems likely to prove a magnet for drama buffs from near and far.
The show opened on October 12 and will run Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. until November 4, with cast talkbacks following every Wednesday performance. Ticket prices are remarkably affordable for high-quality live stagework: $24 general admission, $20 for seniors, $15 for those under 30 and $5 for students; a three-show season subscription costs $60. With an audience capacity of only 50 to 70 seats, the space is equipped for modular staging; the audience for Cal in Camo wraps around three sides of the stage, and every seat is a terrific one.
And Cal in Camo, directed by Stephen Nachamie, is the perfect play to show off the strengths of this immersive theatergoing environment. With a cast of only four, it’s a taut, provocative drama about that most perennial of subjects for classic American theater, the dysfunctional family struggling to reconnect. This production is only its third-ever: Cal in Camo had its world premiere in May 2016 at the Rattlestick Playwrights’ Theater in New York City and its second run at the Rivendell Theatre Ensemble in Chicago, playwright Hoffman’s former home base, in 2017.
There’s a lot to unpack, thematically and philosophically, in this tragicomic tale of Cal (Valerie Lynn Brett), a new mother from rural Missouri whose abandonment in early childhood by her own mother and subsequent shuffling among foster homes has left her aching for a sense of family, but ill-equipped to nurture her own infant. Her Chicago-bred husband Tim (Michael Siktberg) struggles to reestablish his career as a beer distributor, along with his confidence in his ability to be a provider, in the new home in the country where the couple intend to raise their newborn daughter. Tensions run high between the two, and some beautifully choreographed arguments vividly illustrate the vehemence with which husbands and wives can endeavor to communicate without ever truly hearing one another.
Into the lives of Cal, Tim and their inconsolable baby comes an improbable, slightly crazy angel: Cal’s redneck brother Flynt (John Hartzell), who cared for her in the immediate aftermath of their mother’s flight and with whom she has recently reconnected. Among this fine cast, Hartzell does a particularly sublime job in rendering Flynt, who is reeling from the recent drowning death of his own wife but still manages to trace a transformative arc from disruptive influence to healer in the course of the 85-minute one-act narrative. This family’s metaphoric Moby Dick takes the form of an enormous sinkhole lurking beneath the surface of the lot on which Cal and Tim’s home has been constructed, waiting for the rains to come and further shake the family’s foundations. Also in the cast, in the small role of a reluctant country bar-owner to whom Tim pitches his trendy brews, is Craig Patrick Browne.
It’s a handsome production, with credit going to Water Street Market owner/actor Harry Lipstein, the producing artistic director of Denizen, and Ben Williamson and Brittany Proia, co-artistic directors of the new space. Special kudos are also due for the extraordinarily evocative lighting design by Ryan E. Finzelber, assisted by Kayleigh Marshall. Deidre Works is the production stage manager, assisted by Liz Corey. Technical director Sean Breault also designed the simple-but-effective set, Scott Stauffer the sound and Heather Carey the costumes; Geoff Fryer was production assistant. Corey and Marshall, it should be noted, are both alumnae of New Paltz High School’s Drama Club, now wielding their baccalaureates in theater, from SUNY-Purchase and Vassar College, to formidable effect.
You can read more about Cal in Camo, its playwright, director, cast and crew, in the electronic program downloadable on Denizen Theatre’s website at www.denizentheatre.com. That’s also the place to go to purchase tickets and to find out more about the Theatre itself – located in the upper level of the Water Street Market at 10 Main Street in New Paltz. Or call the Denizen box office at (845) 303-4136.