Directed by Madeleine Rose Parsigian
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Cal and Grey (“with an ‘e’”) are two teenage boys considered to be expendable. They were warehoused in their post-infancy by the revolutionary regime whose takeover eliminated “all men and women” and placed all children in orphanages until they were twenty-one. With many other institutionalized children, Cal and Grey survive by adhering to a diet of strict obedience to a warden and his abusive staff who have become their dysfunctional extended family.
In the course of Becca Schlossberg’s parabolic new play “cal and grey,” Cal (Justin Blake Broido) falls deeply in love with Grey (Nick Martin) and the consummation of their affection for one another is the turning point of this remarkable play whose important themes of self-worth and survival reverberate with the honest and authentic performances furnished by the play’s focused and abstracted cast. Under Madeleine Rose Parsigian’s compliant yet discriminating direction, Mr. Broido and Mr. Martin deliver distinguished performances which detail their characters’ struggle to persevere in the midst of abuse and oppression.
Oppressive regimes (Cal and Grey’s orphanage; the Nazis; religious organizations; governments; schools) maintain power by dividing, incarcerating, slaughtering the innocent, and weakening the oppressed by forcing them (through their tyrannical systems) to focus more on minutiae than weighty matters, “to focus on details so as not to have to deal with larger things.” When Cal first meets Grey , Grey has become anesthetized by detail and has become oblivious to the horrors surrounding him. Cal’s unconditional and non-judgmental love penetrates Grey’s complacency and opens his world and his heart to transformative love. What Grey thinks might be a distraction is the deconstruction of the reality he has accepted as normative and necessary.
Outside the orphanage, the populace is in the midst of its own deconstruction of the revolution and all hell is breaking loose. Grey reiterates, “It’s the end of the world.” Cal has been selected to visit outside the orphanage and has tried to convince journalist Patrick to understand that he and his fellow orphans are “victims instead of monsters.” Cal’s desire to defy the system which oppresses him and Grey gets him into battles with one of the guards and he often returns to Grey beaten, bloodied, and most likely sexually abused.
The connections between Cal and Grey’s story and the contemporary world are endless and Ms. Schlossberg’s script equips the audience to discover Cal and Grey’s struggle for safe haven and self-acceptance in each audience member’s own life and in the lives of those who share fragile Planet earth as home. The sudden focus by School Systems on the details of “new and improved state standards,” for example, distracts parents and students (and teachers) from the glaring reality of substandard learning environments and the dangers of the increasing administration of senseless high-stakes tests. Even the highly important Supreme Court dismantling of DOMA and California’s Prop 8 has resulted in squabbling between the LGBT communities (which needs desperately to remain united) and the homophobic and often abusive majority population.
At the play’s end, Grey realizes that the fragile environment of the orphanage is about to crumble as the pressure for reform outside the institution escalates. He also comes to realize that Cal is the only hope the rest of the children have to escape before the orphanage is ambushed. After confronting Cal with his theory that Cal must be the leader of this escape, Cal refuses to leave Grey resulting in Grey’s pretending their relationship is only “a distraction” and “a mistake.” Grey decides to put himself in harm’s way in front of the same window that has given him years of comfort: what happens as a result will free Cal to assist the rest of the boys to escape lives of continued sexual, mental, and physical abuse.
Grey’s act of unconditional love is a powerful and well-crafted trope (here an extended metaphor) for all human struggles past and present whose success has depended solely upon salvific self-sacrifice. It reminds us that freedom and equality often come only after struggle and unbending commitment to recover at least a small part of paradise. Do all that you can to see this wonderful and weighty new play before the close of its run at FringeNYC.