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every August or September: Dezart Performs puts out a call to the world for submissions of original plays that are unpublished, and have never been performed in the Coachella Valley.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.