Being a brand-new startup sometimes has its advantages. Just ask the folks at the Desert Rose Playhouse.
The next play on the boards for the LGBT and gay-friendly company—British playwright Joe Orton’s controversial (during its debut in 1964, at least) Entertaining Mr. Sloane—was originally slated to open this week. But the play wasn’t quite ready, so artistic director Jim Strait and managing director Paul Taylor decided to push the opening back a week. Then came a last-minute casting change, so Strait and Taylor decided to delay the opening yet another week: The show is now scheduled to debut on Friday, March 1.
“We’re determined not to put up a show unless it’s up to a certain standard,” Strait says.
Of course, an established company could never do what the Desert Rose has done—at least not without upsetting season-ticket holders and sponsors.
“We have no subscribers,” Strait says. “So our schedule is our own.”
That flexibility allowed the Desert Rose’s inaugural show, Dirty Little Showtunes—a gay-themed musical revue/comedy that debuted in San Francisco and features … well, dirty little showtunes—to enjoy a nearly unprecedented run.
“It opened on July 21, and we were going to do four shows per week for seven weeks,” Strait explains. “Well, people kept coming to it.”
So Desert Rose kept extending the play. It finally closed as 2012 closed, after an amazing 24-week run.
“It kept going,” Strait says. “It wasn’t always profitable, but it was always fun.”
After a recently concluded four-week run of Stephen Sondheim’s Marry Me a Little will come Entertaining Mr. Sloane.
“It’s a very early gay play,” says Strait. “Joe Orton was of the bad boys of British theater. He only wrote five plays before his lover killed him with a hammer. … Audiences in the West End were just aghast (at the play).”
The play focuses on a middle-aged woman named Kath, who takes in a young man named Mr. Sloane. Kath’s father immediately dislikes Sloane; meanwhile, Kath begins to take a sexual interest in Sloane. And so does her brother, Ed.
Strait compares the piece to “Britcoms” like Are You Being Served? and Keeping Up Appearances.
“It’s not Ozzie and Harriet,” he says while emphasizing that the play is not that dirty, and is appropriate for all audiences.
Ryan Dominguez, who performed in Desert Rose’s Dirty Little Showtunes, recently joined the cast as Mr. Sloane. Valorie Armstrong plays Kath, and Hal O’Connell plays Ed. Another Showtunes performer, Terry Huber, plays the father of Ed and Kath.
Strait concedes that the play is not the easiest show to produce. It features a fair amount of unfamiliar British slang. And then there’s the play’s length.
“It’s a three-act play, with two intermissions,” he says. “It’s a serious evening of theater.”
After the abbreviated nine-show run, the Desert Rose will produce The Boys in the Band, before concluding the company’s first season with a yet-to-be-determined show.
It’s been an up-and-down journey for the Desert Rose, which was founded by Strait and Taylor—two theater veterans—in 2010 in an effort to fill the void after another LGBT company, the Thorny Theatre, closed. They started raising money, and planned on taking over a Cathedral City building as the Desert Rose’s home. However, the election and the competition for charity dollars with other local causes led to a slowdown in donations; meanwhile, code changes meant the building they wanted was in need of more bathrooms.
Therefore, Strait and Taylor switched courses and found The Commissary in Rancho Mirage, and rented it out last year. They moved in to the spot in May, and converted it into a showroom. Then came their Desert Rose’s first full show, Dirty Little Showtunes, and the rest, as they say, is history.
While Strait and Taylor are still seeking donations, and keeping their eyes open for a permanent home for Desert Rose, Strait says they’re happy to be focusing on theater.
“This is pretty much a grassroots kind of thing,” he says. “It’s really quite charming.”
The Desert Rose Playhouse will perform Entertaining Mr. Sloane, barring any further schedule changes, at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, March 1, through Sunday, March 17. Tickets are $25, and shows take place at The Commissary, 69620 Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage. For tickets or more information, call 202-3000, or visit www.desertroseplayhouse.org.