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It all started because Michael Shaw and Dezart Performs co-founder Daniela Ryan wanted to bring more new live theater to the Coachella Valley.

In those first days of what would become the Play Reading Festival, performances were held in a small art gallery. Shaw and Ryan would solicit new scripts from friends and colleagues, and once a month, they would choose one play, cast it, find a director, and present a staged reading—charging just $5 a head. So attendees remained invested in the whole process, each audience member was given ballots to grade each play. After seven months, Dezart tallied up the grades, and the play receiving the highest score was produced as the company’s first show the following season.

Fast-forward to today, and the procedure for the Seventh Annual Play Reading Festival, which takes place April 3-11, is much more formalized: Every fall, Dezart puts out a national call for submissions, and receives between 110 and 125 scripts; last year, Dezart even received entries from Australia and Canada. The scripts get divvied up among a team of 15 readers; they go through several rounds of scoring, and the number of scripts is narrowed down to about 25, which Shaw himself reads. Shaw then passes them on to a colleague, and the two of them choose the five to seven finalists.

With both the Play Reading Festival and Dezart Performs’ other productions, Shaw is not willing to settle when it comes to quality, he said. He admitted that he occasionally ruffles feathers—like, for example, when he refuses to cast friends in parts for which they are not right.

“Here in the valley, just like with theater in Los Angeles, there’s some really good stuff, and there’s some really bad stuff,” Shaw said. “But the passion’s always there. You can walk into any theater in the valley and see the passion. That’s fabulous, but passion can only take you so far.”

Other important factors in Dezart’s success include selecting only special material, and knowing the Dezart Performs audience. Some audience members have been shocked or offended by some of Dezart’s more controversial offerings, he said, including the recent 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche. Shaw doesn’t mind that, as long as each play gets people thinking and talking.

Shaw believes the five plays in this year’s Play Reading Festival will do just that:

Miss Prindle’s Summer Session (Friday, April 3) is a 10-minute comedy by John Lordan. In it, a mother sends her middle-age son back to summer school to study with his retired grammar-school teacher. It’s one of three plays in the festival that Shaw is directing.

The Golden Boots (Friday, April 3) is a one-act comedy by James Rosenfield, based on a true story. A few hours before a reception for Joseph II of Austria, Catherine the Great learns that her lover, the adjutant general, has seduced her best friend. The empress demands that a new adjutant general be chosen in time for the reception.

Suicide Dogs (Saturday, April 4), by Jess Honovich, is a comedy-drama. Also directed by Shaw, the play’s story revolves around Amelia, who flies her family to Florida to prepare for her brother’s funeral after his suicide. What she’s not expecting is that she will now be responsible for her late brother’s famous and sick dog.

Above Water (Friday, April 10) is a drama by Bob Clyman. It’s the story of two middle-age couples who have vacationed together for years. The play begins as the group is on vacation for the first time since one of the wives has died of cancer. The husband has brought along his much younger girlfriend—to the chagrin of the other wife, who was very close to the cancer victim.

• The final play in the festival is drama Cat and Mouse (Saturday, April 11), by Michael E. Wolfson, and also directed by Michael Shaw. Stan and Larry, who have known each other since elementary school, re-connect at a dinner party. One of them ropes the other into a life gamble; the third character in the play is a woman who’s the object of the competition.

This year’s playwrights hail from New Jersey, Chicago, Sacramento and Los Angeles.

The festival features local actors Yo Younger, Garnett Smith, Daniela Ryan, Adina Lawson, Valerie Armstrong, Blanche Mickelson and Scott Smith. Adina Lawson and Joan McGillis each direct one play. As always, the audience will get a chance to vote on which play gets a full production next season.

Like all Dezart shows, the Play Reading Festival takes place at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club. It has been a great home for Dezart Performs for the past few years, but Shaw said the company is growing out of it. One of Shaw’s dreams is to renovate an old church and transform it into a theater; another is to create a performing arts center in Palm Springs that several groups could utilize.

Whatever happens, the area’s theater community is better off thanks to Dezart Performs and its annual festival.

Dezart Performs’ Seventh Annual Play Reading Festival takes place at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, April 3 through 11, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $10, or $34 for all four nights. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit www.dezartperforms.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

October 1962 was a crazy time in the United States. The Cuban Missile Crisis had the world on the verge of nuclear war. Deadly riots after the first black student was admitted to the University of Mississippi had the country on edge.

Cultural change was afoot as well: Rock ’n’ roll was taking the country by storm, and some women, in some places, could gain control over their own bodies thanks to “the pill.” Oh, and kids were starting to wear sneakers to school. Yes, God forbid, sneakers.

This is the world in which the Whitebottom family of Worcester, Mass., finds itself in Duck and Cover, the dramatic comedy currently on the Palm Springs Womans Club stage, compliments of Dezart Performs. The organization’s mission is to present newer works of theater, and this is the West Coast premiere of Michael Kimball’s play. He should be proud of the fun, if flawed, production it is receiving from Dezart Performs and director Judith Chapman.

We first meet the Whitebottom family as the father, Hugh, is quizzing his 12-year-old son, Stevie, on state capitals and proper knot-tying. The mother, Claire, looks on, as the friendly neighborhood milkman, Mr. Rippit, drops by. We soon learn that Hugh served our country during World War II on a submarine, and that Stevie wants to be an electrical engineer when he grows up. The scene is straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting—at first.

We soon start to see small cracks in this all-American scene: Hugh chastises Claire for mentioning a financial matter “with strangers,” and makes Stevie feel stupid for dangerously leaving the door unlocked. Yes, Hugh’s a bit domineering—and we sense early on that this is going to become a problem at some point for the Whitebottoms.

The family’s relative peace is thrown into total disarray with the sudden arrival of Bunny, Claire’s brother. He shows up wearing tattered pajamas and holding a trumpet—the one thing he was able to save from the fire that has just destroyed his apartment. Hugh’s not a fan of his musician brother-in-law; he begrudgingly lets Bunny stay, but only until the end of November, and only if he pays $10 per week as rent.

A little later, the family is thrown into further turmoil when Eddie, a—gasp!—black man!—arrives. Turns out he’s a nice guy who is Bunny’s friend and co-worker, but his arrival sends Stevie fearfully scurrying into the bedroom, and leaves Claire wondering whether she’s ever seen a “negro” in person before.

Any play starring Yo Younger and Michael Shaw (Michael, I should disclose, is a good friend of mine) has a lot going for it; after all, they’re two of the best actors working in the valley today. True to form, Younger is amazing; she is, by far, the best thing about this production. She fully inhabits the role of Claire as she transforms from a put-on-a-happy-face housewife into a woman who decides she finally needs to put her foot down to protect her brother, her son and—most importantly—her own self-interests. This is a flawless, fantastic performance; Younger is so good that, at times, you may be tempted to race to the stage to give her a hug as she struggles to reconcile her needs with her reality.

Shaw, on the other hand, falls a bit short in his characterization of Hugh. The lines Hugh is given reminded one of my fellow play-goers of Archie Bunker—Hugh is a domineering bully of a man who declares repeatedly that in HIS house, and with HIS family, HE is the one who makes the rules. While Shaw brings plenty of bluster and frustration to the character, he doesn’t amp up the domination and anger quite enough; it’s hard to believe that Stevie and Claire would be so fully under the thumb of this Hugh. It’s only when Hugh shows off his lovable and noble traits—most notably in a scene near the end of the play when he cries out that all he really wants to do is protect his family from the turmoil of the world that surrounds them—that Shaw truly shines.

Local middle-schooler Stephen Lee is perfectly cast as the awkward, nerdy Stevie, while Scott Smith is good as Bunny; he’s especially good when expressing the adoration he feels for his dear sister, Claire. Hal O’Connell brings a lot of laughs as Mr. Rippit, the milkman who, we learn as the play progresses, is delivering more than dairy products to some of his customers. Robert Ramirez is strong in the first act as Eddie, although he descends a bit too far into stereotypes in the second.

All of the technical aspects of the play, per usual at Dezart Performs, are excellent, with one notable exception: The set. It’s a gorgeous, detailed, technically flawless piece of work, and may well be the best set that could have possibly been designed for the smallish stage at the Womans Club’s Pearl McManus Theater. Problem is, this play feels a bit too big for this stage: A living room, a kitchen and Stevie’s bedroom are all crammed in, and this leads to some awkward blocking by the characters, especially when four or more people are on stage at once.

Kimball’s script has some hilarious lines; I laughed out loud at least a half-dozen times. Still, the book could use some smoothing out. The characters’ transformations at the end seemed unrealistically sudden, and one moment—involving Stevie and Mr. Rippit—came off as downright creepy.

These issues aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Duck and Cover. It’s a funny and, at times, moving piece of theater that will leave you smiling as the talented actors take their bows. Don’t miss it.

Duck and Cover, a production of Dezart Performs, is performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 8, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $22 to $25. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit dezartperforms.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

You don’t have to be a gay woman or a fan of quiche to thoroughly enjoy 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, the 2014-2015 season-opening production by Dezart Performs.

Written by Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood, the five-character play opened in Chicago in 2011, then hit off-Broadway in 2012; it was named a Best Overall Production at the New York International Fringe Festival.

Set in 1956, the play opens in a church basement, which has been turned into a fallout shelter. (The simple set by J.W. Layne works quite well.) The members of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein have gathered for their annual quiche breakfast. The main event on the agenda: the judging of the quiches, to determine which is best.

Everyone in the audience is a member of the society, too; attendees are each given a nametag upon entering. (I was “Dorothy.”) Throughout the production, the five ladies onstage zing individual audience members, focusing most of their venom on Marjorie, the impeached former building-and-grounds chairman sitting in the front row.

The egg—the main ingredient in a quiche, of course—has been sacred to members of the society since the group was founded by a pioneering woman who came across a colony of hens in the woods. Their motto: “No men, no meat, all manners.” When a misguided member once showed up with a sausage quiche, she was unceremoniously thrown out of the meeting. Joyce Jenkins’ brightly colored costumes and Lyndee Goodall’s hair-and-wig designs perfectly capture the era, and help define each character.

Thankfully, the entire cast is superb. It’s a joy when members of an ensemble are evenly matched, as they are here. Allison Feist is quite effective as emotionally fragile Dale. Adina Lawson is an absolute hoot as no-nonsense Vern, who takes her job as building-and-grounds chairman very seriously. There were times when she reminded me of a young Barbra Streisand. As the society’s innocent secretary, Ginny, Phylicia Mason is charming, even if her English accent was a bit inconsistent. Kristine Waters is hilarious and a bit campy as Wren and Yo Younger once again delivers a flawless performance as the group’s fearless Southern leader, Lulie.

Kudos go to director/producer Michael Shaw for choosing this piece, and for eliciting such great performances from his cast. Both the sound (Clark Dugger) and the lighting (Phil Murphy) are spot-on.

Act One ends with a nuclear blast destroying the outside world, apparently leaving only the members of the society alive. As Act Two begins, and the meeting progresses, the comedy gets broader, and the sexual double-entendres become more blatant. At one point, Ginny loses control, jumps on the table and buries her face, tongue-first, in the winning quiche; another character comments on her “good technique.”

Confessions begin, and the truth comes out: These self-proclaimed “widows” really prefer romantic liaisons with each other. (This isn’t a spoiler if you know the name of the play.) Dale’s monologue detailing why she’s the way she is, and why she hasn’t spoken to a man since a rift with her father at age 3, is terrific. Since audience participation is a big part of this show, by the end of the night, we were all proclaiming to be lesbians.

5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche was originally conceived as a one-act. Having it morph into a two-act play works, since the pace is brisk. Including the 15-minute intermission, the total running time was about 90 minutes.

Once again, Dezart Performs has proven that it’s a gem in the valley’s theater scene. This production is wonderful: It’s fun, bawdy and, at times, touching. If you’re not offended by sexual humor or two women kissing, you’ll love this show—and you’ll never look at quiche the same way again.

5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, by Dezart Performs, is performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 23, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Evening shows are $25; matinees are $22. A champagne brunch at Lulu California Bistro, followed by the show, begins at 1 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 16; tickets are $44. A benefit performance for the Desert AIDS Project takes place at 7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 16; tickets are $35. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit www.dezartperforms.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter’s Night—From Desert Rose Playhouse

Set in New York City in 1987, 2 Boys explores the sexual etiquette of one-night stands and is peppered with poignant, humorous and sly observations. The play contains nudity and sexual situations; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Aug. 22, through Sunday, Sept 7. $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

The 39 Steps—From Theatre 29

Mix a Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, then add a dash of Monty Python, and you have The 39 Steps, a fast-paced whodunit. At 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, Aug. 15, through Saturday, Sept. 13, with 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sunday, Aug. 24 and Sept. 7. $12 regular; $10 seniors and military; $8 children and students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Happy Hour: A Staged Reading—From CV Rep

Gavin MacLeod and Michael Shaw star in the staged reading of George Eastman’s play; at 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 2; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 3. A dessert reception follows. $20. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

He Loves and She Loves—From CV Rep’s Summer Cabaret Series

Erika and Brent Schindele star in this evening of love songs from “boy meets girl” to “happily ever after”; at 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 9; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 10. $25. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Mixed Plate, an Un-Gala Fundraiser for Desert Rose Playhouse

An evening of song and dance by favorite performers, as well as fun, friends and fabulous food from LuLu/Acqua Pazza and iPastries is a money-raiser for the theater company, with a reception at 7 p.m., and a performance at 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 16. $40. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

The Stops—From Desert Rose Playhouse

Three women (played by men) embark on a mission after their friend and mentor, an Evangelical Christian composer and organist, is ousted from his music-minister position—because he’s gay; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, extended through Sunday, Aug. 3. $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Sundays in Summer Series

Actor, singer, playwright and director Jack Betts performs his one-man mini-musical, On My Way Here, at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 3. Accompanied by the Derrik Lewis Trio, Jaci Davis debuts her new show, Liza and Ella and Babs, Oh My! at 2 p.m., thSunday, Aug. 10. Ron Cohn celebrates his birthday with Live and Let Live, a cabaret show about his favorite composer, Cole Porter, at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 17. Each show is $11; cash only at the box office. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-325-2731.

The Vagina Monologues

The series of monologues by Eve Ensler is presented by the Smiley Face, the Frown Entertainment Co. and Georgie’s Alibi Azul Patio; 7:30 p.m., Saturday; and 3:30 p.m., Sunday, from Saturday, Aug. 2, through Sunday, Aug. 31. $15; special three-course prix-fixe dinner for $45. At Georgie’s Alibi Azul Patio, 369 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-5533; www.alibiazul.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

In a valley full of theater, Dezart Performs sets itself apart by focusing on the new.

“We’re bringing new and original material to the desert—stuff that’s never been seen at least in the Coachella Valley, if not Los Angeles,” says Michael Shaw, the artistic director of the nonprofit company which is wrapping up its season with its Sixth Annual Play Reading Series over the next two weekends. “We seek out stuff that hasn’t been seen by a wide audience, if it has been seen at all.”

The Play Reading Series is the culmination of a process that starts every August or September: Dezart Performs puts out a call to the world for submissions of original plays that are unpublished, and have never been performed in the Coachella Valley. This year, Dezart received 95 submissions from across the country and even the world. (That number is mercifully a bit down from the whopping 122 scripts the organization got two years ago.)

“Apparently, the word is getting out,” Shaw says. “Playwrights are constantly looking for venues.”

All the submissions went to about 15 readers. They were scored in two rounds, and the top 20 were forwarded to Shaw, who picked the finalists.

This year, there are but four finalists, and all are full-length plays; in previous years, due to the inclusion of one-acts, the Play Reading Series included more finalists.

“We received very few one-acts, and a lot of full-lengths,” Shaw says.

This year’s four finalists will be each read by professional actors in directed shows at the Palm Springs Womans Club over the next two weekends:

• At 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 11, is The (Former) Prostitutes Potluck Supper, a comedy by Frankie Little Hardin. It focuses on a group of women, plus one man, who have all retired from the world’s oldest profession, and who meet once a month for a supper in small-town Georgia. However, tensions rise when a newcomer joins the group. For mature audiences only.

• At 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 12, is Whispers to the Moon, a drama by Kris Bauske. Every August for 42 years, a man and a woman—each married to someone else—have returned to the same hotel on the Riviera to consummate their love. When the woman’s adult daughter shows up unannounced, things get complicated.

• At 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 18, is The Living Mrs. Del Vecchio, a comedy by Larry Ukolowicz. At a funeral, three women join forces and form a “trial-by-jury organization created to chastise anyone who simply ruins a lovely day.” The play then depicts their first trial, featuring pizza, vodka and dance performances.

• At 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 19, is Duck and Cover, a comedy by Michael Kimball. In 1962, a sheltered family in suburban Massachusetts deals with the chaos created when the 12-year-old son wants sneakers, and the wife wants her driver’s license. The problem: The husband sees sneakers and female drivers as steps toward anarchy.

After each show, audience members are asked to submit a ballot scoring the play. Each play is scored individually, and not in comparison to the others, meaning people who can’t see all the shows will still help determine which play is deemed the audience favorite. And there’s a big prize in store for the audience favorite: Dezart will mount a full production of the play as part of its 2014-2015 season.

Last year, two plays—Exquisite Potential and Invasion of Privacy—tied as audience favorite; therefore, Shaw and company decided to produce both plays this season. Both productions received high marks from reviewers and achieved success at the box office.

Although he realizes asking audience members to devote themselves to seeing four readings over two weekends is a lot, Shaw wants people to see as many of the plays as they can.

“We encourage … people to get invested in the entire process. That’s why we keep the series very affordable. I want everybody to come to every single one of these.”

Dezart Performs’ Sixth Annual Play Reading Series takes place at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, through Saturday, April 19, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. Tickets are $8 for each reading, or $25 for the entire series. For tickets, call 800-838-3006, or visit www.dezartperforms.com. Visit the website for more information.

Published in Theater and Dance

Many of us recall reading Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Yearling, back in grade school. Her book Cross Creek, and its resulting lawsuit, are less familiar.

Written in 1942, Cross Creek chronicles the fishermen and other backwoods folks living near Rawlings’ home in Alachua County, Fla. Most of the 121 characters in the book were apparently fine with Rawlings’ descriptions of them, but one—Zelma Cason—took definite offense and decided to sue. The trial, which was the first of its kind in Florida, is the basis for Dezart Performs’ latest production, Invasion of Privacy.

In Cross Creek, Zelma is not pleased about being described as “an ageless spinster resembling an angry and efficient canary.” (I wouldn’t be pleased, either.) Rawlings goes on to say about Cason: “I cannot decide whether she should have been a man or a mother. She combines the more violent characteristics of both and those who ask for or accept her ministrations think nothing at being cursed loudly at the very instant of being tenderly fed, clothed, nursed or guided through their troubles.” Cason claimed Rawlings did not have permission to write about her and sued for libel and invasion of privacy. She requested an award of $100,000.

Larry Parr’s play is based on transcripts from the 1943 trial and interviews with Rawlings’ husband, Norton Baskin. It’s a bit of a Southern soap opera, filled with colorful, hard-to-forget characters.

The role of Marjorie is the glue that holds the entire production together. Gina Bikales captures the author’s strength and righteous anger over being told what she can and cannot write about, but her depiction of the Rawlings’ personal struggles—with booze and her often-absent husband—don’t ring as true. The opening scenes with Bikales and Peter Nicholson (Norton Baskin) lack chemistry. In fact, it’s not until near the end of the play that we see even a shred of Marjorie’s vulnerability. When she laments the death of her beloved dog and goes on about how much she misses him, we somehow just don’t believe it. Because Bikales has a strong stage presence and an animated face, the character would be more interesting and more likable if she toned things down just a bit; too much gesturing can get distracting. Sometimes, less is more. However, Bikales’ scenes with Louise Ross, as Zelma, are effective.

Ross—who stepped into the role three weeks ago when Blanche Mickelson (whose photo is featured prominently on the program and in press materials) had to withdraw for personal reasons—does a fine job. In her tacky, down-home outfits—the costumes are all terrific—Ross charms us as boozing, tough-talking Zelma, although Zelma could have used a bit more energy and fire at times (particularly in the courtroom scene at the end of Act 1). She shares some nice moments with Marjorie in her bathroom (it’s the only warm room in the house, you see) as the two women pass a bottle of whiskey back and forth and try to make up. Though Marjorie has come armed with an apology and a peace offering (a cake), the effort fails, and the former friends end up madder than ever.

Peter Nicholson holds his own as Rawlings’ other half, Norton. He’s likeable onstage, but he, like Bikales, could use a few more levels to his character. It occasionally comes across as a one-note performance.

Corbett Brattin is thoroughly entertaining as Rawlings’ good-ol’-boy lawyer, Sigsbee Scruggs. After failing to convince Rawlings and her husband to settle the case, Scruggs digs in to the task at hand, although he takes a brief detour from his dedication to the cause to flirt with his opposing counsel in the empty courtroom. His suggestion that she get to know the other male lawyers in town by going hunting with them brings a well-deserved laugh. Brattin’s performance is well-crafted and funny, and may well garner him the Desert Theatre League award win he’s so far been denied.

But the true jewel in the cast is Yo Younger as Zelma’s attorney, Kate Walton. Always a standout, Younger can command the audience’s attention simply by standing at the edge of the stage and gazing forward: You can’t take your eyes off her. Call it charisma; call it presence—whatever you call it, Younger has it. Her performance is passionate and strong, yet also vulnerable. When her character recounts the sting of being chastised by her family for even considering law as a career, and then being called a hillbilly by her law-school classmates, we feel every ounce of her pain. However, she’s always in control, and never pushes too hard. Younger splits her time between the valley and Los Angeles. Hopefully she will continue to share her acting talent with desert audiences for years to come.

In a small role as Judge John Murphree, Jason Lewis has some nice comic moments, particularly when he directs those in the courtroom to sit without uttering a word. However, he could pump up his energy level and vocal volume a bit.

The play is nicely directed by soap-opera and stage veteran Judith Chapman. She deftly captures the mood of backwoods Florida in the 1940s. The blocking seems to flow naturally, and Chapman generally keeps the action moving at a good pace (though a couple of scene changes lagged a bit). Having the audience double as the jury in the courtroom scenes, with the lawyers speaking directly to us, is quite effective.

The split set—one half Marjorie’s back porch, and the other the courtroom (and briefly Zelma’s bathroom)—works quite well.

Dezart and artistic director Michael Shaw have once again chosen an entertaining play that has a deeper message: Do we have a right to privacy? More than 70 years after the Cross Creek trial, the answer to that question seems more elusive than ever. Here in 2014—the “Age of Information”—privacy seems all but impossible.

The Rawlings legal case took more than four years with appeals. It also took a huge toll on the writer’s career—she only published one more full novel in the decade after the trial.

Dezart’s Invasion of Privacy is thought-provoking theater that will spark much debate on the ride home.

Dezart Performs’ production of Invasion of Privacy takes place at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 9, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Womans’ Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $22; or $18 for seniors, students and members of the military. Running time is two hours, with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or go to www.dezartperforms.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

Imagine that you’re a young Jewish mother, about to give birth to your second child, a girl. You’re in the rabbi’s office discussing the naming ceremony, when out of the blue, your husband announces that your 3-year-old son is the Messiah. He’s come to that conclusion based on a long list of “miracles” the child has supposedly performed.

How does one react to a bombshell like that? That’s the dilemma presented in the opening scene of Stephen Kaplan’s Exquisite Potential, now being produced by Dezart Performs.

It is the West Coast premiere of the comedy/drama by Stephen Kaplan. Sobering at times but loaded with laughs, Exquisite Potential explores the expectations parents put on their children—as well as those we burden ourselves with.

The young mother, Laura Zuckerman, is played to near-perfection by Adina Lawson. Her comic timing is fabulous, and she skillfully captures her character’s shock, embarrassment and confusion. Has her husband completely lost his mind? Or could he be right? Michael Shaw (Dezart’s artistic director) brings great humanity and depth to the role of Alan Zuckerman. Though his assertion seems ludicrous at first, his conviction and earnestness begin to make it all seem possible.

As the rabbi who Alan turns to for advice on what to do now that he’s sure his son, David, is the Messiah, Scott Smith delivers a solid performance. In Act 2, as the group reconvenes 30 years later to determine whether David has proved his “Messiah-hood,” valley favorite Garnett Smith adds charm and humor as the older rabbi. In a brief walk-on, young Makai Armstrong Ross is adorable and clearly enjoys being onstage. (Ross rotates the role throughout the run with Sawyer Lanterman.)

The only flaws in the production were slow pacing and a few opening-night jitters early in the first act, and a long delay in what should have been an instantaneous blackout at the end of Act 2.

It’s often said that expectations are “the building blocks of resentment.” Are they? What would it be like growing up as the sibling of the Messiah? Aren’t we all capable of amazing deeds? What constitutes a miracle, anyway? What is our purpose in life? Exquisite Potential will have you debating these questions and more—long after you leave the theater.

Exquisite Potential, a production of Dezart Performs, is performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Dec. 1, at the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $22 general; and $18 for students, seniors and members of the military. For tickets or more information, call 800-838-3006 (tickets) or 760-322-0179 (info), or go to www.dezartperforms.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

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