As a reviewer, it’s always a satisfying—and a relief—to leave the theater after seeing a top-notch production, when the writing, production values and the performances are all superb. Such was the case as I left the Palm Springs Cultural Center after watching Desert Ensemble Theatre’s production of All This Intimacy.
Rajiv Joseph’s play opens with college professor Ty (Shawn Abramowitz, replacing an ailing Sean Timothy Brown) admitting to his best friend, Seth (Raul Ramiro Valenzuela), that not only did he have sex with three different women in the space of nine days; each one of them is now pregnant. The premise is serious—some tough, life-altering decisions must be made—but it is also fertile ground for great comedic moments.
The impregnated women are Ty’s 30-something girlfriend, Jen (Kudra Wagner); his 42-year-old neighbor, Maureen (Phylicia Mason); and Becca (Eliza Convis), an 18-year-old student in his poetry class. Each situation is complicated. Ty’s relationship with Jen is a bit rocky, and a baby is not what they need at the moment. Maureen is married and has a young son she adopted after being told she could never conceive; she considers this pregnancy a miracle. Ty’s fling with the infatuated Becca was particularly ill-advised; motherhood was nowhere on her radar, and she’s clearly not ready to handle it.
Complicating matters even further is Seth’s upcoming wedding to Jen’s sister, Franny (J. Clare Merritt). A control freak who’s a bit of a Bridezilla, Franny is also very protective of Jen. When she learns that Ty has knocked up not only her sister, but two other women, she’s understandably outraged. She demands that Seth not only replace Ty as his best man, but that Seth tell him he can’t go to the wedding.
Ty decides to throw a small dinner party to break the news about all three pregnancies. Each woman thinks they were invited over for an intimate evening. Instead, they learn about Ty’s “other” women, and that each is now carrying his child. The evening is full of outrage—but also hilarious.
Very well-written, All This Intimacy is full of snappy dialogue. Director Keith Cornell hits a home run here, eliciting strong performances from each actor. His blocking allows them to move effortlessly around the stage.
The cast is uniformly excellent, but special mention has to be made of Abramowitz, DET’s executive director, who stepped into the role of Ty at the last minute when Brown became ill. Though Abramowitz was on book throughout the play, the script in his hands seemed to disappear after a while. He was so engrossed in the character that it was easy to forget he was reading. This is actually the second time this season Abramowitz has had to do this, and both times, he’s handled it with great skill.
Wagner expertly conveys Jen’s heartbreak over Ty’s betrayal, but also her struggle to be strong and independent. She’s terrific in the role. As the vulnerable Maureen, Mason delivers yet another stellar performance. Trapped in a lonely marriage and resigned to her apparent infertility, Maureen is truly shocked and elated that she is now “with child.” Her shy seduction of Ty feels so real, and her smile lights up the stage.
Convis, a valley newcomer, is quite a find. Her Becca is feisty, flirty and very funny. A Generation Z aspiring poet, she’s all goo-goo eyed over Ty—but once the reality of her pregnancy kicks in, she gets very practical. The phone call she makes to Ty to break the news is a hoot. Valenzuela is fabulous as Seth. We feel for him as he tries to balance his loyalty to his childhood best friend and his devotion to his demanding fiancée. He has wonderful energy onstage, and superb comic timing.
As the acerbic, no-nonsense Franny, Merritt is splendid. With flawless skin and flaming red hair, she commands attention. No one is going to mess up her upcoming nuptials—or the wedding pictures. Merritt embodies the boldness the character requires. When Franny threatens Ty with bodily harm for cheating on her sister, it does not seem like an idle threat.
Thomas L. Valach’s set works well, and the lighting and sound are excellent. Everything runs like a well-oiled machine; I didn’t notice one missed opening-night cue by either the actors or the tech crew.
All This Intimacy is funny, witty, well-written and superbly acted. It’s a wonderful evening of theater that should not be missed.
Desert Ensemble Theatre’s production of All This Intimacy will be performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, April 3, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $35. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required for entry. For tickets or more information, call 760-565-2476, or visit www.desertensembletheatre.org.