Dezart Performs’ description of Chapatti, now playing at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, includes one actor, one actress, one dog and … HOW MANY cats? Oh, my aching allergies!
Of course, they don’t have actual cats on stage … remember that expression about “herding cats”? They’d be all over the room. And even a dog is … well, an unreliable performer. So fear not, my fellow feline-allergy sufferers: All the animals are mimed in this show. However, with great names like Prudence, Salvadore and Indiana, they seem very much alive and real. Chapatti is also a dog, named after an East Indian dish—and you’ll find out why in the play.
And you’re going to love it—the play, that is: Chapatti is the surprise of the season, a two-person show that will reach even the most hard-hearted, cynical, world-weary, super-sophisticated audience. It is an emotional shocker that only the Irish could create … and I can’t imagine any other two actors than Dana Hooley and Dale Morris playing these roles. Set in modern-day Dublin, Chapatti reaches deeply into the lives of two ordinary working-class people and their pets.
The author, Christian O’Reilly, has created a most masterful script. Just when you think you know everything about these two characters, he drops a bomb, and then another, and then another that changes everything, making the characters ever more complex and infinitely more precious. O’Reilly has brilliantly brought to life two characters you will never forget. He reminds us how much pain is hidden in most people, and how much our wounds define us. How often do we rush to judgment about people without knowing their full story? This play teaches us to look deeper before reaching conclusions. It’s a lesson worth remembering.
O’Reilly also gives us some very interesting information about pets. Having recently adopted an African spurred tortoise, we were most eager to learn these nuggets of wisdom, which hopefully apply to all creatures great and small.
Michael Shaw’s direction is perfect. He craftily unfolds the pace and intensity of the script so that we are rapt for the full 90 minutes. You can’t take your eyes off these actors because of the play’s flawless rhythm. You won’t consciously notice it, but you’ll sure feel it. The actors’ moves are minimalized and thoroughly motivated, and the blocking gets full marks.
Part of the reason for that lovely rhythm goes to the amazing lighting by Phil Murphy, who has truly surpassed his own genius with this work. He focuses the attention exactly where it’s needed, and as a result, the sweeps from one location to another are not just efficient, but enhancing. The rich colors are glorious, and I particularly loved his “warm” lighting when it was used.
Yet more kudos go to the set designer, Thomas Valach. His creation of a multi-use stage works magnificently with the lighting and the direction to create a variety of locales that blend smoothly and effortlessly. He expands the stage into a teahouse, a graveyard, a veterinarian’s office, a dark and lonely bachelor’s apartment, and a home overrun with cats—all seamlessly. I particularly loved the invisibly supported window.
But the actors! Let’s talk about the performances of Dale Morris and Dana Hooley. First, they have chosen to use that lilt in their voices that defines Irish speech, rather than affecting heavy accents—an interesting choice which works and makes every word understandable. Second, these are not gorgeous Hollywood-glamour types or dazzling feature-perfect TV stars. These actors look their parts: two simple people of humble means whose working life is now behind them. Everyday people, I guess they could be called. Great casting! Yet their spirits rise to make them so very special—and you will find them fascinating. Third, the script is nonstop verbiage composed of monologues or conversations, and the body of work is a feat of memorization—which these actors breeze through without breaking stride. The variety of emotions they, and we, experience are as many as The Emerald Isle’s famous 40 shades of green. We were not prepared to be so moved by these very skilled performers, and the experience is one that will captivate you. Bring a hanky.
Let’s also praise the work of Diane McClure, the production and stage manager; Jim Lapidus the costume designer (who has a surprise of his own up his “sleeve” in the final scenes); and Clark Duggar, a producer who also designed the sound.
Shaw tells us that Dezart is “moving on” and beginning to look for a new home of their own as the company concludes its ninth season of shows in the Coachella Valley. The Desert Theatre League has bestowed 147 nominations and 55 awards on Dezart, which has mounted four world premieres.
Afterward, I came home to hug my tortoise.
Chapatti, a production of Dezart Performs, is performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, April 9, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. The play is 90 minutes long, with no intermission, and tickets are $25 to $30. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit www.dezartperforms.org.