By Andrew Poretz . . .

Tulis McCall, a “woman of a certain age,” to borrow from the title of a previous McCall show, is a New York-based actor, writer and producer, as well as a fellow reviewer.  Tonight, under the direction of the multihyphenate Austin Pendleton, she acted out a series of original, intimate monologues, interspersed with related songs, mainly standards like Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?”, “Bill” from Showboat, and relatively recent ones like Judy Collins’ “My Father.” 

Appearing in black pants and a light blue silk blouse that matched her steel blue eyes, McCall announced, “My pronouns are I, Me, Mine.” 

McCall informed the audience that she has not sung in some 43 years.  A technical glitch meant she had to use a hand-held mic rather than her usual wireless mic.  This created more of the patina of a standup comic working the stage during the monologues, and perhaps emphasized her admittedly meager singing ability to a greater extent.  Musical director and accompanist Paul Greenwood provided just the right touch, with thoughtful, spare arrangements to complement McCall’s singing.

It wasn’t clear at first that these monologues were not autobiographical, perhaps because McCall is so convincing as a performer.  McCall, at times, speaks with a perfect Irish accent befitting her name, though it was not altogether clear if the accent belonged to her character or McCall.  It took some time for the first monologue, about a staircase, to make enough sense to this reviewer, though her delivery helped to keep the audience intrigued enough until it did.

Each monologue had a line acting as a cue for the upcoming song, often identical to the song title.  Her first song, “If I Were a Rich Man” (Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick), was McCall’s strongest vocally.  It was an interesting juxtaposition of her Irish accent with the language from Fiddler on the Roof, including a few words spoken in Hebrew. 

In a piece called “Now That You’re Gone,” McCall riffed on death.  “’Passed on’ sounds like you went on a cruise… It means ‘gone gone.’”  She turned the title into a question by asking, “What’ll I Do?” 

A monologue about marriage, “Eileen at the Altar,” was interspersed with “Among My Yesterdays” (John Kander/Fred Ebb) and “Bill” (Jerome Kern, P.G. Wodehouse and Oscar Hammerstein II).  A very funny bit about the mixed marriage of Eileen and Arthur, a Jewish fellow, whose reaction to seeing Jesus on the cross was quite funny.  “I thought Jesus was a good guy”, Arthur told Eileen, who assured him he was.  “Well, what do you do to the bad guys?” 

McCall is quite good at finding the tiniest of details and making them live.  She sang the last line of “Bill”: “Just because he’s…. I don’t know!” instead of “just my Bill,” to much laughter.  Her attention to detail made for some great, vivid storytelling, while her assured approach made one forget that she was acting.  In her poignant “Love in the Time of Telegrams,” set in World War II, she made the sound effect of a telegraph machine, and repeated the content of wartime telegrams in the form of “We regret to inform you…” of the passing of loved ones, or of those missing in action. Special guest Betsyann Faiella was a welcome addition to this monologue, with a sensitive and well-sung interpretation of “Where Do You Start” (Marilyn Bergman/Alan Bergman/Johnny Mandel). 

After several gut-wrenching monologues to end the show, McCall’s encore of “Beautiful,” by “Alan Cumming’s friend Barnaby’s dad,” was hysterically funny, with more “effings” than one of Dan Finnerty’s legendary improv songs at “The Lineup with Susie Mosher.”

Tulis McCall is a thoughtful writer and a very good monologist.  The show can use more development in the front end.  Her singing skills are secondary to her interpretative delivery, and she has a warm, inviting presence that made this 75 minutes well worth the time.

Tulis McCall – Tulis Talks and Sings

Directed by Austin Pendleton

Musical director:  Paul Greenwood

Guest singer:  Betsyann Faiella

Don’t Tell Mama

343 West 46th Street, NYC

March 6, 2022

Photos: (except lead photo) by David Laundra