As David Cale begins his one-man show ``The Redthroats,'' the very deliberateness of his monologue invites close attention. His brief declarative sentences - oscillating within the narrow range of, say, three notes in a musical scale - are not unpleasant. Considering their simplicity, however, the narrative they painstakingly unfold is surprisingly ambiguous. As the British performance artist evokes a family in the north of England, an audience may feel comfortable enough (or the opposite) to giggle as he mentions their names: Mr. and Mrs. Weird.
If this is to be a parable, it will surely be a funny one, we guess, tentatively, hopefully.
On the other hand, there is something slightly menacing about the confidential mood set by the storyteller, who appeared recently at the Avery Theater in the Wadsworth Atheneum here, and last weekend at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.
Are the strange doings of the Weirds truly comical? The retreat of young Steven into his room, for example, to play Judy Garland hits until he can lip-sync them to perfection. Funny, sure. Weird. Not wonderful, though, as we later learn from a deliberate, matter-of-fact recounting (Mr. Cale as the young man, now, not the narrator) of Steven's drift into male prostitution.
Speaking the part of one character at a time, or two, with ``he saids'' and ``she saids,'' Cale acts out harangues, a murder, hallucinations, as the Weirds are transformed from a set of cartoon characters to a pitiable group of recognizable types touched with tragedy. At the end, Cale allows a glimmer of hope for Steven, airborne for America - Cale's own path, some eight years ago, when he left London for New York.
Cale's performance of this work, which he also wrote, is all of a piece, ranging impressively from Mrs. Weird's even-toned incantations (``Why can't I have a family like other people? Why can't I have a lovely home like other people?'') to Mr. Weird's full-throated denunciations in the most violent sketch.
Although strongly evocative of the life and hard times of an underprivileged level of society, Cale's work seems less a revelation of unsuspected pools of despair than a fresh celebration of the actor's art. The enthusiastic applause seemed to be showered mainly on theatrical talent, though some inevitably flowed sympathetically to the protagonists of his mainly grim, often enchanting tale.
``The Redthroats'' was first performed Off Broadway in 1986. For this work Cale won a Bessie Award for outstanding creative achievement.
The show will be staged later this month in Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum, as Mr. Cale, a self-described ``writer/actor,'' widens his circle of fascinated listeners.