Review Roundup: David Cale's WE'RE ONLY ALIVE FOR A SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME
The New York premiere of WE'RE ONLY ALIVE FOR A SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME, written and performed by David Cale, with music co-written by Matthew Dean Marsh, and directed by Robert Falls, runs through Sunday, July 14.
WE'RE ONLY ALIVE FOR A SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME stars playwright David Cale as himself, and is accompanied by a six-piece orchestra featuringMatthew Dean Marsh (Piano), Josh Henderson (Viola), Tomina Parvanova (Harp), Jessica Wang (Cello), John Blevins (Trumpet), and Tyler Hseih (Clarinet).
Growing up, writer/performer David Cale escaped his parents' fraught marriage by singing in his bedroom and tending to birds in his backyard animal hospital. Lush songs, featuring a six-piece orchestra, and an intimate portrait of his mother unite in Cale's vivid musical memoir of hope, family, and transcendence. Cale returns to The Public after appearing in Deep in a Dream of You and The Total Bent.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Jesse Green, New York Times: How the innocent are abused and, in some cases, rescued - by others or, more likely, themselves - is the theme of this ultimately hopeful show, a coproduction of the Public and the Goodman Theater in Chicago. In some ways, it is thus a transformation and culmination of Mr. Cale's many dark, downtown works, typically told in monologue and song and from several points of view. If you've seen even just one or two of them, "We're Only Alive" will serve as a kind of concordance to the characters and symbols that have populated his theatrical imagination for decades.
Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter: The anecdote-driven tale seems not particularly distinctive at first. Cale describes his relationships not only with his parents but also his younger brother Simon, to whom he became a protector, and his wealthy but emotionally distant grandfather, whose fortune had something to do with the notorious criminals the Kray brothers. At various times he narrates the tale from different family members' perspectives, channeling several of them from the afterlife as if they were ghosts desperate to have their voices heard.
Helen Shaw, Time Out NY: In its production choices, We're Only Alive is sweet as treacle: Birdcages sometimes hang overhead, or a feather falls meaningfully from the ceiling; Cale's trans-Atlantic voice, which stretches long over its vowels, is accompanied by a lush, harp-filled score. (Cale wrote the music with Matthew Dean Marsh.) Cale is an aesthetic kinsman and coeval of monologue stars like Spalding Gray and Eric Bogosian, but with this kind of treatment, he sounds a little singsong and olde-timey, like a record you'd put on for children. Yet the content is terrifying. This juxtaposition can be jarring, until you remember that Cale was only a boy when his family fell apart. An air of nostalgia pervades the show: Cale clearly misses his mother, and feels lucky to have survived his childhood, but he also longs for the innocent he was. "Feral child, there was a feral child!," he sings, and it's part of the show's strange, interesting, ambivalent attitude towards suffering that Cale looks transported with delight as he does so.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Cale has said that he avoided writing about this episode in his life because "I didn't want people to feel sorry for me." Of course, that's the big attraction of "Alive." We not only feel sorry but we've got the victim right there in front of us. In this case, a little distance would be better. Cale is far more engaging as a writer and performer when he's using his nightmares to create other characters, other situations. It's the problem with so many hardship memoirs. Easy ironies and coincidences abound, especially regarding Cale's idol Liza Minnelli, that wouldn't be tolerated in fiction.
Jesse Oxfeld, NY Stage Review: Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, as we know, but it's hard to think of many that are as profoundly, performatively, tragically unhappy as David Cale's. The good news, such as it is, is that Cale's childhood misfortune has yielded We're Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time, a beautiful, moving, and ultimately deeply engaging one-man biomusical that opened tonight at The Public Theater.
Tulis McCall, NY Theatre Guide: One drawback to the evening is that I believe this original production was staged for a proscenium theatre: one where the audience is directly in front of the stage. This means the performer would spend all of his time facing forward to talk to us. This is what happened at The Public Theater as well - the only problem was that the Ansbacher is a thrust stage where over 50% of the audience is seated to the right and left of the stage. Cale spent at least 80% of his time on stage looking at those of us directly in front of him, leaving a good chunk of the audience to look at his back and side profile throughout. Sound was another problem. When he turned to face the side audience his head mic did not pick up his voice. Cale wears a head mic and uses a mic on a stand as well. There is a considerable difference in the sound quality, which added to the uneven quality of this show.