William Francis Hoffman’s play, “Cal in Camo,” came to the Denizen Theatre for its regional premiere, going down in the books as the theatre’s first production.
Directed by Stephen Nachamie, the show ran from Oct. 11 to Nov. 4.
The response from the New Paltz community was overwhelmingly positive. “We were all thrilled with the attendance and had several sold out performances,” said Michael Siktberg, the actor who played the part of Tim.
“Cal in Camo” probes the nature of family bonds with cutting humor and moments of revelation. The plot revolves around a young married couple and their newborn, who moved from their native Chicago home to an isolated starter house in rural Illinois, struggling to live functionally as a family.
“Post-partum depression, the search for the American Dream, lack of connection to family, trying to repair the injuries of our past,” the Founder and Producing Artistic Director of the Denizen Theater, Harry Lipstein said. “This play brings up a lot of issues.”
Cal, played by Valerie Lynn Brett, is the antithesis of instant maternal bonds. Motherhood proves to be brutal and unrewarding, as the theatre’s curtains pull back to reveal Cal angrily wrestling with a breast pump.
Meanwhile, her bone-tired husband Tim tries to get his footing in his new sales territory and struggles to financially support the family.
But the play’s tension and uneasiness truly crescendos when Flynt, played by John Hartzell, enters the picture.
Unfulfilled by her newborn and starved for familial connection, Cal invites her brother Flynt into her home, who is mourning the recent death of his wife.
“Cal in Camo” begs the question— do the wounds of the past irreversibly impact our capacity to connect?
“William Francis Hoffman’s ‘Cal in Camo’ is an honest, visceral and poetic play that explores our need for love and connection, and the obstacles that our lives put in the way of obtaining those goals,” Nachamie said in his director’s note.
After directing “Cal in Camo,” Nachamie coined the name “The Little Brother Director” for himself. Throughout production, he incessantly asked the actors questions to consider as they built the characters and the relationships. “I kept asking ‘Why? Why? Why?’ until we all hit the core of the matter, the moment, the scene,” Nachamie said.
While directing and performing Hoffman’s play posed some challenges, they were faced head-on with nothing short of enthusiasm.
Hoffman wrote “Cal in Camo” without punctuation and, for the most part, without stage directions. “Exploring the text, creating the relationships, and finding stage business to help enhance the storytelling were wonderful challenges,” Nachamie said.
The stakes were high in the setting of this play: sleep deprived, running out of money, a hungry screaming baby and finally a crumbling home.
“It took a lot of focus to remind myself just how exhausted and panic ridden the characters were every moment,” said Siktberg. Striving to portray an honest and authentic performance kept the actors on their toes, and, according to Siktberg, was a thrill to attempt every performance.
Carrying the levels and layers of Cal’s pain all at once, in any given moment, certainly kept Brett on her toes. “It was never just one thing, never just one source of pain,” Brett said.
“The guys get to give the audience laugh lines, and get to have a sense of release in the midst of the show and a sense of play, but Cal doesn’t get to share in that,” Brett said.
Instead, Cal carries much of the darkness and the pain throughout the whole show. “That was tough, as both character and actor,” Brett said.
The collaboration with the playwright, the actors, the design team, the producers and stage mangers went flawlessly. According to Nachamie, everyone was fearless, inquisitive and wonderful to work with.
Driven by adventurous spirits, the actors consistently experimented with new techniques and explored different avenues to achieve raw honesty.
“One of my lines I would often repeat to myself in my head through the show was: ‘I’m going to try again,”’ Brett said. “I learned to hope a little bit more, to release pain a little bit more, to open my heart a little bit more, to love my body a little more, to step into my power a little bit more. I learned a little bit more about my capacity to fight for things that mean a lot to me.”
While the curtains have closed for “Cal in Camo,” its spirit still lives on in the hearts of its audience.
“The dark, messy aspects of life have light shed on them in this play,” Brett said. “All who can identify are given hope.”