LILLIAN, Goodman Theatre Studio. The most conventional, concentrated, and sentimental of the five monologues British writer-performer David Cale has brought to Goodman's small stage is Lillian, seven vignettes covering seven years in the life of an endearing survivor who appeared in Cale's 1993 Somebody Else's House. Fortysomething when she tells this tale, Lillian compares herself to a late-blooming chrysanthemum. Several years earlier she took a randy, muscular young man named Jimmy as her lover. Their May-December relationship survives her divorce from a dour husband (doubtless hastened by her amorous episode with Jimmy), and at a Brighton resort she reunites with Jimmy, now 26 and married to Donna, a businesswoman. Jimmy leaves Donna, and he and Lillian impulsively marry. Jimmy gets his chance to be a gardener, but life has other plans, and Lillian is left to cultivate chrysanthemums that bloom all year long.
Cale's vignettes beautifully capture Lillian's delight as this eleventh-hour eroticism deepens into devotion. Wisely, Cale gives her memories the tinge of fantasy, allowing Jimmy to retain his mystery. There's no omniscience; honest Lillian confesses what she can never know about Jimmy, and we can only guess.
Simply telling one story in his own soft, definitely male voice, Cale puts the character beyond impersonation, male or female. Cale is superb at fusing image and emotion, and equally adept at coloring the most immediate memory with its bittersweet aftermath. Respecting those skills, director Joe Mantello makes Lillian as simple as a song. --Lawrence Bommer