Crew of One: David Cale portrays a cast of romance-haunted monologists.

The human heart is as mysterious and unknowable as the sea!

The premise sounds awfully precious: a one-man show composed of monologues from characters of both genders ruminating on the brief love affairs that’ve haunted them, in some cases for decades. Two characters occupying adjacent rooms in a beachfront hotel in Santa Monica serve as our hosts for these 95 intermissionless minutes, and we return to these men at intervals. One is a scribe who’s checked in to finish his collection of erotic short stories; the other is a sailor retired from Her Majesty’s Navy, now rehearsing his original sea shanties for…well, some kind of sea-shanty festival or something. These kinds of events are always snarling traffic on the 10 west of the Harbor Freeway. Happily for us, David Cale, the writer-performer-composer inhabiting all these roles, turns out to be quite seaworthy as a singer.

And as a navigator? Well, The History of Kisses—a world premiere that replaced an earlier Cale solo outing, Palomino, on the Studio slate—is still finding its sea legs, so some listing is to be expected. Particularly disorienting is the fact that Cale spends the first 25 minutes as Lisa, a middle-aged divorcée who finds her batteries recharged by a dashing stranger. This opening story of there-and-gone romance is the show’s longest and, to me, least interesting, although perhaps it only seemed so because I needed some time to surrender myself to the dreamy, discursive rhythms of Cale’s storytelling. Once Lisa goes away and Cale reverts to the role of James, the short-story writer, we recognize how thoroughly he’d altered his body language, cadences, and pitch to take on the physical characteristics of a woman. He repeats the illusion to adopt the identities of several other characters whose lives briefly intersect in moments of unforeseen erotic possibility.

Scenic designer Luciana Stecconi has made up Studio’s Metheny Theatre to evoke the beach, with sand on the floor and a painter’s easel from which title cards announce the scene changes. Curiously, the stage’s back wall has been left exposed—as it was for Tynan, another one-man show that played the same room back in January. Why no seascape, or even a suggestive wash of blue light?

It doesn’t matter. By the time Cale wanders out into the aisles to recount the near-death-at-sea of the sturdy Australian surfer who works the reception desk, you grasp that he’s given souls to each of his alter egos, even this bloke who the others all assume is just an oversexed cypher. That Cale pours so much of himself into each vessel is what ultimately keeps them afloat.