Who among us has not secretly wished to become a famous movie star? In Desert Ensemble Theatre’s production of Future Thinking, we get to see what it could really be like if it happened to us.
The play, written by Eliza Clark, opens as a fan—proudly dressed as a character from a sci-fi series, in a purple cape and a fantastic winged helmet—has been detained at Comic-Con for stalking a star from that series. We then get to see what happens behind the scenes at this huge event, with the help of a five-member cast directed by Richard Marlow.
Peter, the fan in the violet cape (Raul Ramiro Valenzuela), has been detained by an ambitious and rather smug security guy, James/Jim (Andrew Weiss). It is gradually revealed that Peter was banned from the event the previous year for attempting to deliver a vial of his own blood to a young actress. (Ewww!) That actress, Chiara (J. Clare Merritt), is a spoiled 23-year-old with a sewer mouth who has been in show business since she was 7. Her mother, Crystal (Alexana Thomas), is an over-protective single parent, while Chiara’s private security man, Sandy (Nick Edwards), a former police officer and Marine, carries himself with a casual elegance.
We learn that Peter only sees Chiara as Sabrina, her character in the series, and that Peter’s obsession with her has driven away his wife and children, and who are now residing in Florida. The end of that 15-year marriage is not as important to him as his pursuit of Chiara.
The scenes bounce between the various characters’ hotel rooms and the annex where Peter is being held. These setting shifts are beautifully choreographed and flawlessly executed by an amazing group who deserves to be singled out for their work in this play. Well done!
After the intermission, the characters continue to reveal themselves and—most importantly—their relationships with each other. We soon learn that our first impressions of these people may not have been accurate. For example, Chiara stops us in our tracks when she reveals, “I don’t know how to be a real person.” We also learn how narrow her breadth of knowledge is when it is revealed that not only has she never heard of the Northern Lights; she can’t even understand what they are.
The cast is a talented and likeable group; Marlow and producers Jerome Elliott Moskowitz and Shawn Abramowitz are to be congratulated on finding and developing this play and this cast.
As Sandy, Edwards creates a character who takes his job guarding Chiara seriously, although his private life is a mess. He has worked for Chiara for a long time, delicately trying to keep her in line while protecting her from weirdos. His face shows emotions he doesn’t mean to reveal.
Merritt’s Chiara is a lopsided character who is fantastic with her lines, loved by the camera—and a pathetic creature off-camera. Chiara does a lot of whining about her personal life; Merritt’s portrayal of Chiara is brisk and business-like.
Thomas’ Crystal is way more complex than she first seems. Her secrets are gradually revealed, and we find out her obsession with her daughter’s life comes not just from wanting to see Chiara succeed, but also from the fact that Chiara is financially supporting her. Thomas plays the part well.
Valenzuela, as Peter, has a wonderful time flinging himself around in the costume. Even if we don’t understand why, we learn how fans become obsessed with the characters in these films. Valenzuela clearly enjoys playing the part.
Weiss’ security man Jim goes from being a mere stereotype to being a much more complex character as we learn more. He grows throughout the play, and we can’t help but hope for his future—though there’s trouble on the horizon.
Future Thinking, the final show in DET’s 12th season, is a complex play. Even if you’ve never been to Comic-Con—and I never have, which might show in this review—you’ll find this well-done production to be quite interesting.
Desert Ensemble Theatre’s production of Future Thinking will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, April 23, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $35. For tickets or more information, call 760-565-2476, or visit www.desertensembletheatre.org.