The title of David Cale's one-man show, "The Redthroats," playing at the Sushi Gallery through Sunday, is the name his childhood friends had for a particular fish that seemed, at first glance, drab, but on closer examination was revealed to have a beautiful bright red throat.
In a way, all of his characters in the show are redthroats who put themselves down for being drab. But none fits the bill more than Steven, the insecure 20-year-old who, in "Welcome to America," the last of the three monologues that make up "The Redthroats," is on a plane, leaving his native England for America.
"Steven doesn't realize that he is special until he gets on this plane, and he certainly doesn't realize that he's funny," said Cale from San Francisco in between performances of the show. "He doesn't realize it until the last section when it's acknowledged by the other passengers."
That was certainly the way Cale felt when he himself left his native England for America eight years ago at age 20--minus the passengers applauding.
Like the young Steven in the first monologue, "The Weirds," Cale fantasized about becoming a singer. It didn't seem the most likely of ambitions for a boy without musical or theatrical training who had been kicked out of school at 16. Nevertheless, he persevered, and once in New York, got occasional bookings in nightclubs and cabarets. But no one ever seemed to like his work.
A few years later he accompanied some of his writer friends to an open poetry reading at the St. Mark's Poetry Project. Out of frustration, he said, he dropped the music and "hurled the lyrics out. And there was applause. And no one else got applause."
Cale then went to a New York nightclub that had rejected his songs a year before and auditioned with the very same lyrics done as monologues. The owner, who did not remember him, hired him.
Over the next few years, the monologues grew into theater pieces, and three of the theater pieces grew into "Redthroats," an assemblage of monologues about Steven which are done with one prop--a chair that has been traveling with Cale ever since he discovered it in a garbage heap outside a New York club. ("It's my most successful relationship," said Cale, with a laugh.) He has one other full-length piece, "Smooch Music," which melds anecdotal pieces about love which he reassures fans is spoken, not sung, against a musical background.
Both works have been highly praised by the New York critics and have gotten Cale noticed, leading to a small part as Mia Farrow's director in Woody Allen's "Radio Days," another role as a director in an upcoming Paul Mazursky movie, "Moon Over Parador," and an upcoming Bette Midler special for HBO called "Mondo Beyondo" in which Cale reprises "Welcome to America."
It was his warm reception at his one-night test run of "The Redthroats" at Sushi's spring Neofest, he said, that was the inspiration for his current 12-city tour.
Also coming, courtesy of Random House, is a paperback edition of "The Redthroats" and "Smooch Music." Pretty amazing, Cale suggested, for a fellow who failed high school English.
"It's all happened so fast," said Cale, who will turn 29 next month. "I never thought it was going to happen to me." He did add, though, that in a "strange way," it was prefigured in his "Welcome to America" piece.
"They show a movie on the plane and Steven sees himself in the movie. . . . This was written way before I got into the movies. In a weird way, life is imitating art."