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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche—From Dezart Performs

It’s 1956, and the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein’s lovely annual quiche breakfast is disrupted by … the threat of Communists! At 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2:30 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Nov. 14, through Sunday, Nov. 23. $22 to $25; $44 for the show and brunch at LuLu California Bistro on Sunday, Nov. 16. At the Pearl McManus Theater in the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-322-0179; dezartperforms.org.

12th Annual Annenberg Theater Opening Night Gala Fundraiser

Andrea McArdle, Maureen McGovern, Donna McKechnie and Randy Graff headline this special fundraiser, at 6 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 15. $95 to $295. At the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee—From Palm Canyon Theatre

An eclectic group of kids compete for the big prize in the renowned spelling competition at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Nov. 14, through Sunday, Nov. 23. $28. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Broadway in Drag!—From Palm Canyon Theatre

The lovely Bella da Ball hosts this fourth annual drag pageant, as female impersonators vie for the crown in this Palm Springs Pride event, at 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 7. $35 to $50. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

The Chosen—From CV Rep

The award-winning play tells the story of two boys, two fathers and two different Jewish communities in 1940s Brooklyn, N.Y., at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 16. $45; $40 previews on Oct. 29 and 30; $55 opening night on Oct. 31. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

A Magical Evening of Luminaries

Don Martin hosts, and Christopher Marlowe is the musical director at this fundraiser for CV Rep featuring Kaye Ballard, Joyce Bulifant, Carol Channing and many others, at 7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 2. $75; $250 VIP. At the Annenberg Center for Health Sciences at Eisenhower, 39000 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

McCallum Theatre

Mummenschanz, the Swiss mask theater troupe, is part of the Palm Desert International Dance Festival and Choreography Competition, at 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 13; $20 to $65. Also part of the festival: A Man’s Requiem, by the SEOP Dance Company from South Korea, at 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 15; $20 to $65. Renowned musical Anything Goes is performed at 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 28; 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 29; and 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 30. $35 to $105. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein—From Palm Canyon Theatre

The musical comedy based on Mel Brooks’ classic film is performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 2. $36. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein—From Theatre 29

The musical comedy based on Mel Brooks’ classic film is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, though Saturday, Nov. 1. $12 regular; $10 seniors and military; $8 children and students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Noises Off!—From Desert Theatreworks

Desert Theatreworks re-imagines what’s been called the funniest farce ever written for their intimate theater space, at 7 p.m., Friday; 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 9. No show on Oct. 31. $25 regular; $23 seniors and students with ID. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

The Odd Couple—From Palm Desert Stage

Lou Galvan and Matthew Shaker star as the famously mismatched roommates at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Nov. 14, through Sunday, Nov. 23. $28; $25 seniors Friends of IPAC; $17 students. At the Indio Performing Arts Center, 45175 Fargo St., Indio. 760-636-9682; www.pdstage.com.

The Rocky Horror Show—From COD Theatre

The campy rock musical that made “The Time Warp” famous is performed at 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 30; 7 p.m. and midnight, Friday, Oct. 31; 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 1; and 3 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 2. Most shows $30 general, with discounts for students, COD staff and seniors; call to confirm times. At Theatre Too at College of the Desert, 43500 Monterey Ave., Palm Desert. 760-773-2565; collegeofthedesert.edu.

Scrooge in Rouge—From Desert Rose Playhouse

The play has a cast of 20—but 17 of the actors get food poisoning. Of course, the show must go on, so the three remaining actors do the best they can; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Nov. 14, through Sunday, Dec. 21. 28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Shakespeare in Hollywood—From Theatre 29

It’s 1934, and famous Shakespeare fairies Oberon and Puck have suddenly materialized on the Warner Bros. set of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; a hilarious farce ensues, at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, Nov. 21, through Saturday, Dec. 20, with 2:30 p.m., Sunday, matinees on Nov. 30 and Dec. 14. $12 regular; $10 seniors and military; $8 children and students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Those of us who grew up in Canada were raised on it.

We knew The Goon Show with Peter Sellers and Take It From Here on the radio; the Carry On gang’s outrageous ensemble movies; and, later, Beyond the Fringe with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in theatrical revue, and the unforgettable Monty Python films.

So I felt very much at home with the British-humor outrages perpetrated in Desert Theatreworks’ “Noises Off!” at the Arthur Newman Theatre—as did the eager, nearly full house of supporters on opening night. They were probably all Americans, which is just fine; humor’s birthplace doesn’t matter. It’s all about having fun and being involved. Judging from the laughter and applause, it’s certain you’ll have a great time at this show, no matter where you were born.

The script, by Michael Frayn, starts with the final rehearsal of a play. We quickly see that it’s nowhere near ready to open, and the personalities of the actors are part of the reason why. The frustrated director, whom we hear only on a “God mic” from the audience, is desperately trying to control his nutso cast and get the show ready for the opening—which is only hours away.

The set, cleverly designed by Ron Phillips-Martinez, is a departure from the usual two-story setting of this show. “We create the illusion of two stories,” he confided to me, “and the way the set changes between acts leaves people saying, ‘How did you DO that?’ We wanted everything to be different, because this play has been done here before. … We didn’t want to re-do just another version of it.”

During the set change, the lights are left on so we can admire the super-efficient use of restricted space. When the scenery changes between acts, we find ourselves backstage at another performance of the same play—but now from the actors’ vantage point. Of course, the actors must not make the slightest noise during the performance, so everything is communicated in frantic mime.

Why would a small theater company like Desert Theatreworks, in an intimate space, even think of mounting such a production?

“I did it on a dare!” director Lance Phillips-Martinez told me. “They said this play couldn’t be done in this theater. There are 700 exits and entrances to deal with! It was a true challenge, and I spent six months thinking it through before deciding to do it. The actors were all open to it—though only two had ever performed in a farce before, so there was a lot of teaching involved.” 

Ah, the actors—the poor things were wringing wet by the end of the show, thanks to the astonishing amount of exertion needed. British comedy is indeed very physical, and Lance Phillips-Martinez has emphasized the importance of body language with this production, as he kaleidoscopes his constantly moving actors.

And what an ensemble! Everyone is physically transformed compared to other shows in which you may have seen them, and I don’t just mean costume and makeup changes—they talk, move and use their hair differently. They are, as the Brits might say, quite extraordinary. Farce lets a thespian get in touch with his inner ham, but make no mistake: This show is artfully disciplined, even though it seems like total chaos. Each actor has exquisitely developed his character fully, under Lance Phillips-Martinez’s guidance.

Stan Jensen plays the hapless director of this play-within-a-play (called “Nothing’s On”), and with that rich powerful voice, he’s perfect. His strained patience is conveyed in tones ranging from kindly coaxing to a bellow, and his authoritarian strut is exactly right. As in all caricatures, the exaggeration emphasizes rather than conceals his character’s qualities (and flaws).

Marjory Lewis plays actress Dotty Otley who plays Mrs. Clackett, the Cockney housekeeper. Lance Phillips-Martinez has nurtured and polished this gem of an actress to a high luster, with qualities we’ve never seen her display before. She is vibrantly alive, bright and multi-layered, and she runs through an astounding variety of emotions.

Stephen McMillen devours the stage as arrogant actor Garry LeJune, playing Roger in their play. A DTW staple, McMillen completely re-invents himself in every role, this time digging deep to give a complex performance as a talented but self-involved, neurotic and unintentionally hilarious thespian. He’s recognizable to anyone who has ever done theater at any level.

Mari Kerber is Brooke Ashton, playing Vicki (the “i” tells you so much), the troupe’s resident blonde glamour girl and idiot—but she’s street-smart enough to use her looks to fuel her ambition. Moody and vain, she shines as she prances and tosses her crimped hair artfully, constantly posing in calendar-girl fashion to show off her admirable figure.

Tanner Lieser plays Frederick Fellowes, who toils in the role of Philip Brent. A disaster magnet, he is instantly recognizable from his first lines: He’s the guy who puts himself down so you can’t do it. Hypersensitive and luckless—a terrible combination—he’s the epitome of insecurity. Lieser makes the most of this very funny role and actually enlists our sympathy.

Stacy Casaluci plays Belinda Blair, playing Flavia Brent in Nothing’s On, and she’s a sweetheart as the unsung heroine who is quietly keeping the cast together behind the scenes. She’s always upbeat, positive and there at the right time—one of those. She is convincing and pretty, and brings a lovely light to her scenes.

Garnett Smith is a seasoned actor—here playing the cast’s Selsdon Mowbray, acting as The Burglar—but we’ve never before seen him like this. He’s the cast’s old troublemaker and secret drinker, just this side of dangerous. He comes close to stealing the show with his unscripted monologue during a set change between acts, and his beautifully thought-out character gives us no end of delight. Smith knows his face, body and craft, and uses them all brilliantly.

Florentino Carrillo plays Tim Allgood, the overworked, youthful techie and stage manager of the troupe. His stillness gives us glimpses of his exhaustion, and contrasts delightfully with the rest of the high-energy group. He switches accents, a little confusing, but is delightful when he has to sub onstage, shaking in his shoes at being thrust into the spotlight.

Brittney De Leon-Reyes is Poppy, the assistant stage manager, the drab but sincere and hardworking little girl behind the scenes—almost every theater has one. She is a casting surprise in this role, a nervous nelly fearful of everything. It’s the mark of a true actress to be so versatile, and reveals a glimpse of her depth and her promise.

Curtain calls and applause! Go see this, and be prepared to laugh and be astonished. It’s a most unusual play, and whether or not you’ve ever actually been backstage for real, you will laugh out loud. A lot. I promise.

Noises Off!, a production of Desert Theatreworks, is performed at 7 p.m., Friday; 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 9 (with no show on Oct. 31) at the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. Tickets are $25 regular; or $23 seniors and students with ID. For tickets or more information, call 760-980-1455, or visit www.dtworks.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins—From Desert Rose Playhouse

This comedy is set in 1977 and focuses on 15-year-old Horace Poore’s sexual awakening, hastened by images of Olympic champion Mark Spitz and anti-gay crusader Anita Bryant; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Oct. 19. $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Broadway D-Lights—From Desert Ensemble Theatre Company

Three of the valley’s top vocalists—Keisha D, Charles Herrera and Jerome Elliott—perform at 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 17. A portion of the proceeds go to Desert Ensemble’s high school scholarship fund. $30. At the Pearl McManus Theater in the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-565-2476; www.brownpapertickets.com/event/848586.

The Chosen—From CV Rep

The award-winning play tells the story of two boys, two fathers and two different Jewish communities in 1940s Brooklyn, N.Y., at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, from Wednesday, Oct. 29, through Sunday, Nov. 16. $45; $40 previews on Oct. 29 and 30; $55 opening night on Oct. 31. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

CV Rep Luminary Luncheon: Millicent Martin

The well-known star of both stage and screen—you may know her as Daphne’s mother on Frasier—is interviewed by Don Martin at noon, Wednesday, Oct. 22. $45; includes lunch catered by Lulu/Acqua Pazza. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Desert Theatre League Star Awards

Celebrate the best of the most recent theater season, starting at 4:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 5. $50. At Sun City Shadow Hills, 80875 Avenue 40, Indio. 760-772-9617; deserttheatreleague.org.

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein—From Theatre 29

The musical comedy based on Mel Brooks’ classic film is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, Oct. 3, though Saturday, Nov. 1, with additional matinees at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 12 and 26. $12 regular; $10 seniors and military; $8 children and students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein—From Palm Canyon Theatre

The musical comedy based on Mel Brooks’ classic film is performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Oct. 24, through Sunday, Nov. 2. $36. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Noises Off!—From Desert Theatreworks

Desert Theatreworks re-imagines what’s been called the funniest farce ever written for their intimate Arthur Newman Theatre space, at 7 p.m., Friday; 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Oct. 24, through Sunday, Nov. 9. No shows on Oct. 26 and Oct. 31. $25 regular; $23 seniors and students with ID. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

The Rocky Horror Show—From COD Theatre

The campy rock musical that made “The Time Warp” famous is performed at 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 24; 7 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 25; 3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 26; 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 30; 7 p.m. and midnight, Friday, Oct. 31; 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 1; and 3 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 2. Most shows $30 general, with discounts for students, COD staff and seniors; call to confirm times. At Theatre Too at College of the Desert, 43500 Monterey Ave., Palm Desert. 760-773-2565; collegeofthedesert.edu.

Sundays in Summer Series

Jan Abrams sings songs from World War II at 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 5. Sheldon Craig performs Unforgettable: The Nat King Cole Songbook at 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 12. Julie Esposito sings songs in a range of musical styles from the 1960s to today at 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 19. Diane Pancel pays tribute to Day, Garland and Monroe in Ladies of Hollywood at 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 26. Each show is $11; cash only at the box office. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-325-2731; www.lesmichaels.com/joslyn.

The Who’s Tommy—From Palm Canyon Theatre

In this famous rock musical, Tommy is traumatized into catatonia after he witness his father commit murder. As an adolescent, he discovers a natal knack for pinball, and becomes an international pinball superstar; at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Oct. 12. $36. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

The Phillips-Martinez boys have done it again. Lance, the artistic director of Desert Theatreworks, and Ron, its executive director, have hammered out a hit with Seminar, the play that opens the company’s new season at the Arthur Newman Theatre in Palm Desert’s Joslyn Center.

How did they do it?

Well, first, they chose a wonderfully written script, created by Theresa Rebeck, a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She created Smash on TV, if that helps with the bona fides, but her credentials fill up a whole page of the program. The lady holds a Brandeis doctorate, do you mind. This two-act comedy deals with a private writing class given to four New York wannabes who have each forked over $5,000 for the privilege of being critiqued by an actual working writer for 10 weekly sessions.

Second, the casting is superb. More on this later, when we discuss the actors.

Third, the support system—along with the stage managing of Kathy Taylor-Smith, with sound and lights assistance from Jeremy Goodlander, Stephen McMillen and Alex Updyke—is solid and secure. The importance of this can’t be overlooked. Without lights and mics and sound cues being perfect, nobody can do their job. As for the setting, most of the show takes place in one Manhattan apartment, with the last scene in a different apartment, and you’ll be delighted by the scenery change (and even more in the final bows).

Fourth, Lance Phillips-Martinez’s directing is beautiful. What he did to create such excellent timing in the cast, we can only speculate. But it’s the clever blackouts that create the variations in pace, to great effect. Lance Phillips-Martinez’ hard work with the actors makes this show worth seeing.

So let’s talk about the acting. Recently, in James Franco’s autobiography, he memorably said, “Everyone can act. Not everyone can act well.” And ain’t that the truth? Here, fortunately, they act well. Brittney De Leon-Reyes, playing Izzy, gives new meaning to curves. Luscious and raven-haired, she prowls the stage like a panther wearing 4-inch heels. Flashing eyes, glowing olive skin and a lazy but confident smile give her an uber-sexy air. Va-va-voom! As an actress, she has the ability to focus completely, making her very watchable.

Mari Kerber plays Kate. And if Brittney is Rose Red, then Mari is Rose White. They are polar opposites, yet both are totally believable. Kerber brings to the show a cascade of sleek golden hair, a lovely face (those cheekbones!) and an attitude of calm acceptance about her WASP character’s wealthy and privileged background, making Kate sensitive, generous and thoughtful. She radiates being well-bred and well-read, yet she struggles to find her own voice as a writer.

Gabriel Lawrence is Martin, our mystery-man. Though at first he seems stereotypical (the Latino bad boy/poet from the streets), we soon begin to wonder about what lies beneath his surface. His multi-layered performance keeps us guessing throughout the play, and he surprises us more than once. DTW imported Lawrence back here from L.A. for this role, and he shrewdly fleshes out this unusual character.

The role of Douglas is performed by Tanner Lieser. He dominates the opening scene and can take credit for the chortles that start early in the show. He captures the outrageous and sometimes-pretentious qualities commonly associated with New York intellectuals, although none of the actors use any “N’Yawk” accents at all. Lieser plays the high-strung and hypersensitive Douglas as flamboyant, affected and a big talker happy only when he’s the center of attention.

Then there’s Leonard, the teacher, towering above the others in physical height and with experience in the glorious world of writing to which the students aspire—perfectly played by Luke Rainey. He blathers and blusters, but brilliantly, dumbfounding both his students and the audience. His masterful monologues leave us awestruck, as he tackles such subjects as: Who gets published? Why? What does one have to do to get published? One minute, Leonard is an addled blowhard; the next, he snaps out penetrating insights and revelations. Not an easy task for an actor less talented than this one.

Mixed all together, the group gives us a rare feeling of spontaneity. We believe them. We become the proverbial fly on the wall, listening and watching, because it seems to be real. This is why people go to the theater: They hope to be taken out of their own skins for a while, and live someone else’s life for just a couple of hours. The extraordinary casting in Seminar at Desert Theatreworks combines with the amazing script to make this happen.

We do need to slap a language warning on the production: Do not take the kids, unless you don’t mind that they’ll leave the theater cussing like stevedores (or newspaper editors?). However, with these characters, it serves to make them more believable and emphatic, and it’s not offensive.

So what can we criticize about this production? The play is listed as “contemporary,” and kids I see nowadays appear constantly wired into their cell phones, blogs, texting, selfies—not one of which appeared in this play! Which is perhaps why we enjoyed it! What a pleasure to see something of people other than the tops of their heads as they bend over their electronic devices! Is this an alternate and tolerable parallel universe?

Go see Seminar, and let me know if you figure it out.

Desert Theatreworks’ Seminar is performed at 7 p.m., Friday; and 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, through Saturday, Sept. 13, at the Joslyn Center’s Arthur Newman Theatre, 73-750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. Tickets are $23 to $25. For tickets or more information, call 760-980-1455, or visit www.dtworks.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter’s Night—From Desert Rose Playhouse

Set in New York City in 1987, 2 Boys explores the sexual etiquette of one-night stands and is peppered with poignant, humorous and sly observations. The play contains nudity and sexual situations; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Sept 7. $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

The 39 Steps—From Theatre 29

Mix a Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, then add a dash of Monty Python, and you have The 39 Steps, a fast-paced whodunit. At 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, through Saturday, Sept. 13, with a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Sept. 7. $12 regular; $10 seniors and military; $8 children and students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins—From Desert Rose Playhouse

This comedy is set in 1977 and focuses on 15-year-old Horace Poore’s sexual awakening, hastened by images of Olympic champion Mark Spitz and anti-gay crusader Anita Bryant. Horace fixates first on Spitz, then his ambiguous gym teacher, and finally the orange juice pitchwoman/“Save Our Children” zealot; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Sept. 26, through Sunday, Oct. 19. $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

CV Rep’s Children’s Outreach Production: Touchy Subjects

Touchy Subjects addresses the important subject of sexual harassment in the school system, one of the most common forms of bullying in schools today. The play uses a creative approach by sharing different situations that children encounter. The play is performed by children’s peers. Two public performances take place at 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 27. $10 adults; free to children younger than 17. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Seminar—From Desert Theatreworks

Set in present-day New York City, this comedy follows four young writers: Kate, Martin, Douglas and Izzy; and their professor, Leonard. Each student has paid Leonard $5,000 for a 10-week-long writing seminar to be held in Kate’s Upper West Side apartment. As tensions arise and romance falls between students, they clash over their writing, their relations and their futures; at 7 p.m., Friday; and 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, from Friday, Sept. 5, through Saturday, Sept. 13. $25 regular; $23 seniors; $15 students with ID. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

Shattered Ceilings—From Theatre 29

Theatre 29 hosts this touring play that spotlights an array of remarkable women who made significant contributions to our nation through courage, imagination and conviction, despite obstacles of inequality. The project combines performance art with public school curriculum development designed to change the fact that only 2 percent of persons named in high school history books are women. At 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Sept. 26 and 27. $15. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Sundays in Summer Series

Jack Betts takes a musical journey through his acting career in On My Way Here, at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 3. Jaci Davis, accompanied by the Derrik Lewis Trio, sings songs from Minnelli, Fitzgerald and Streisand at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 10. Ron Cohn celebrates his birthday with Live and Let Live at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 17. Juliana Hansen sings hits from Broadway, Disney and more at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 24. Husband and wife Broadway performers, Rachel Tyler and Matthew Tyler will bring their cabaret concert For Better, Or Worse, at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 31. Each show is $11; cash only at the box office. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-325-2731.

The Who’s Tommy—From Palm Canyon Theatre

In this famous rock musical, Tommy is traumatized into catatonia after he witness his father commit murder. As an adolescent, he discovers a natal knack for pinball, and becomes an international pinball superstar; at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Sept. 26, through Sunday, Oct. 12. $36. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

True West—From Palm Canyon Theatre

Austin, is a college-educated Hollywood screenwriter working on a screenplay while house-sitting for his mother. Enter his older brother, Lee, a drifter and a thief who has been living in the desert; at 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 19, and Saturday, Sept. 20; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 21. $27 to 35. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

For a show to open during these longest days of the year, and attract a packed house, proves that there is wonderful community support for our local productions. That’s exactly what happened on opening night of Southern Hospitality: Lance and Ron Phillips-Martinez and their Desert Theatreworks are clearly doing it right at the Joslyn Center in Palm Desert.

So here’s the question: Can life in the Deep South possibly be as much fun as it’s depicted in the plays written about it? From the hilarity of Sordid Lives and Steel Magnolias to the glorious nonsense of the “Tuna” series and the “Pecan” series, the best comedy of our times seems to be coming from somewhere in Dixie.

In Southern Hospitality, we’re welcomed to Fayro, Texas, where everyone is some kind of nuts. The stage is loosely divided into three different areas, and the first scenes—brief and separated with lighting blackouts, accompanied by instrumental music—make us wonder if this is a revue. However, the characters eventually join up; the story begins, and the relationships become clear. Well, sort of. The four Futrelle Sisters (Frankie, Rhonda Lynn, Honey Raye and Twink) take time from their complicated personal lives to despair at the imminent demise of their town and ponder how it can be saved. The local characters—and this is really simplifying the tangled, mangled plot—come up with the idea of “Fayro Days” … and the planning begins.

The script is marvelous. Dealing with everything from midlife crises to guns to imaginary friends to hot flashes, the characters philosophize wildly. There are references to the “Squat ‘n’ Gobble” restaurant, the “Beaucoup Bouquet” flower shop, and other colorful place names. Fun. Just fun!

Playwrights Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten have combined their considerable expertise and experience to create a wordy but fluffy crowd-pleaser. The playwrights are credited as being among the most produced in America today, with more 3,000 productions … and this play is their newest.

Using a cast of 13 is a serious undertaking, and not for the faint of heart. Only a director with solid old-school skills like Lance Phillips-Martinez would even consider such a challenge. With a play like this, it’s more like “wrangling” than “directing” to move everyone around efficiently but logically.

Lance and Ron Phillips-Martinez have created a company in which actors, when not onstage in a production, are given the chance to learn backstage/sound/lighting/management skills. This used to happen only in summer stock. It is fascinating for the audience to see these actors morph into different characters from one play to another; the company approach also offers a great way for actors to learn. For example, in this production, we see Don Cilluffo, as Raynerd, play the Southern-fried equivalent of a Shakespearean young Fool, though recently we saw him as a mysterious middle-age, dark-cloaked Italian in The Mousetrap. Alden West (is she the busiest actress in town?) appears here as a short-haired blonde in designer-frame glasses and tropical colors, though we last saw her sporting a high-styled tower of black hair and widow’s weeds as she snarled her way through Blazing Guns at Roaring Gulch.

As for the acting: Hmm. There were some inconsistencies in the Southern accents. There were some timing issues, which reflect nothing more than being a little under-rehearsed or first-night jitters. West’s first entrance presented a blocking problem: She spoke her lines with her back to the audience, unlit. One actor’s diction was messed up, either by a sore throat or something going on with her teeth, but it’s back to speech class for her. And, a couple of times, actors tossed away parts of their lines by turning to face the upstage person to whom they were speaking, rather than finding a reason to face the audience. Hey, y’all: We learn nothing from watching the back of someone’s head! It’s one of the most common acting problems, because it is so contrary to real life, but if you want to sock that punch line, you’ve got to let the audience see you and hear it.

Those are the few negatives. Other than that, the mob of actors (Daniela Ryan, Shirley LeMaster, Kathy Taylor-Smith, Kitty Garascia, Hal O’Connell, Alexis Safoyan, Austin Schroeter, Peter Nicholson, Poppy Reybin, Jana Baumann and Domingo Winstead, in addition to Cilluffo and West) tackle their jobs with the brave and noble spirit of the South. It’s not easy to be outrageous: It requires an enormous commitment. You have to combine sincerity with comedic skills and timing, or it just looks like over-acting. Cilluffo is the one who shines at this, with a command of technique that makes him lovable yet hilarious at the same time. A lot of it has to do with his resonant voice and well-used wide eyes.

The cast will grow in confidence. I urge you to see Southern Hospitality regardless of the summer heat.

Desert Theatreworks’ production of Southern Hospitality is performed at 7 p.m., Friday; and 2 and 7 p.m., and Saturday, through Saturday, June 28, at the Joslyn Center’s Arthur Newman Theatre, 73750 Catalina Way, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $25 regular; $23 seniors; $15 students; and $10 kids 15 and younger. For tickets or more information, call 760-980-1455, or visit www.dtworks.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Children’s Theatrical Series at the Annenberg Theater

The Annenberg Theater of the Palm Springs Art Museum offers a summer series of children’s live theatrical productions on Saturdays. Each performance will be offered twice, at noon and 3 p.m. June 7: Let’s Go Science. June 14: Jest in Time Circus. June 21: Bella and Harry. June 28: Super Scientific Circus. $15 children 16 and younger; $20 for adults. At the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org/annenberg-theater.

A Doll’s House—From Theatre 29

Torvald Helmer loves his wife, Nora, but he considers her a child and a possession. When a secret debt comes back to haunt her, Nora’s seemingly idyllic domestic existence becomes a fraught battleground. Shows at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, June 20, through Saturday, July 19, with 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sunday, June 29 and July 13. $12; $10 seniors and military; $8 students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

The Haunted Host—From Desert Rose Playhouse

The LGBT and LGBT-friendly playhouse presents one of the first contemporary gay plays, Robert Patrick’s comedy The Haunted Host, on the 50th anniversary of its Greenwich Village premiere, at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, June 1. $25 to $28. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Laughter, Love and Lunacy—From CV Rep’s Summer Cabaret Series

Alix Korey, Janene Lovullo and Sal Mistretta star in this show featuring “songs you can or can’t take seriously,” at 7 p.m., Friday, June 27, and Saturday, June 28; and 2 p.m., Sunday, June 29. $25. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Live It Up Productions’ Masterpiece

Broadway performers pay tribute to some of the world’s most celebrated pieces of classic art; it’s a fundraiser for the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Desert AIDS Project, at 7 p.m., Friday, June 6. $15; $10 museum members and DAP clients. At the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org/annenberg-theater.

Southern Hospitality—From Desert Theatreworks

This is the story of The Futrelle Sisters—Frankie, Twink, Honey Raye and Rhonda Lynn, whose town is facing extinction! It’s billed as a “laugh-out-loud Southern farce”; at 7 p.m., Friday; and 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, from Friday, June 20, through Saturday, June 28. $25; $23 seniors; $15 students; $10 kids 15 and younger. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

The Stops—From Desert Rose Playhouse

Three women (played by men here) embark on a mission after their friend and mentor, an Evangelical Christian composer and organist, is ousted from his music-minister position—because he’s gay; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, June 13, through Saturday, July 19. $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

True West—From Palm Canyon Theatre

Austin, is a college-educated Hollywood screenwriter working on a screenplay while house-sitting for his mother. Enter his older brother, Lee, a drifter and a thief who has been living in the desert; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, May 30, through Sunday, June 8. $35 to $40; At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Anyone who’s seen the 1967 movie Wait Until Dark vividly recalls the terror they felt for Audrey Hepburn as she fought for her life in the nail-biting final scene. In fact, the whole point of the film, and the play that preceded it, is to scare the daylights out of us.

Though it has wonderful moments, Desert Theatreworks’ production of Wait Until Dark doesn’t quite achieve that goal.

Frederick Knott’s plot involves a heroin-filled doll that makes its way into the life of blind New York housewife Susy Hendrix (Katie Pavao). Her husband, Sam (Gregg Aratin), has innocently brought the doll from Canada as a favor to a woman who turns up dead early in the play. Three bad guys—Harry Roat (Hal O’Connell), Mike Talman (Stephen McMillen) and Sgt. Carlino (Florentino Carrillo)—try to make Susy believe that her husband will be suspected of the murder, and the only way to protect him is to hand over the coveted doll. The drug-filled toy is actually in the hands of the little girl upstairs, Gloria (Vienna Lima and Scarlett Goodlander, alternating performances), who has stolen it after discovering it’s not a gift for her.

I won’t give away much more of the story, to protect those who have not seen the film, but it involves cops who aren’t really cops, phone booths (remember those?), the reappearance of the doll, knives, gasoline and lots of action on a stage plunged into total darkness.

The pivotal role in this play is that of Susy, and thankfully, director Lance Phillips-Martinez has cast the terrific Katie Pavao. Playing a blind person onstage requires great skill, and Pavao has it. Her eyes never actually focus directly on another character’s face, but she does not look too far to the side or too high—a common mistake by amateurs, who can come across as phony. Attractive, charismatic and endearing, Pavao makes us root for Susy from her first appearance to the final curtain. A touch of feistiness balances the vulnerability that comes with a lack of sight.

Though he has a nice stage presence, Hal O’Connell’s Roat doesn’t come across as truly menacing until the very end of the play; this is one of the main reasons the production lacks a consistent feeling of tension and suspense. The same goes for McMillen and Carrillo. They are the right types physically, and McMillen has some nice moments as he and Susy start to feel sympathy for each other, but as bad guys, they are just not quite scary enough.

Gregg Aratin does a nice job as Susy’s loving husband, who doesn’t coddle his wife because of her disability. Vienna Lima, who played the doll-pilfering Gloria in the opening-night performance, is appropriately bratty (and occasionally helpful).

Ron Phillips-Martinez re-creates a Greenwich Village basement apartment nicely, and the sound effects are fine. Lights—and a lack of them—are crucial in this production, and Andy Cavalletto is up to the challenge. The pitch-black final confrontation between Susy and Roat finally gives the audience the thrill for which they’ve been waiting.

The 1967 film version—featuring Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Jack Weston, as well as Hepburn—had the advantage of a score by Henry Mancini. Perhaps a more liberal use of music throughout the play would heighten the dramatic tension. (Imagine Jaws or Psycho without the soundtrack.) That, as well as a slight quickening of the pace here and there, and more sinister villains, would raise this production of Wait Until Dark to the edge-of-your-seat level at which it should be.  

Desert Theatreworks’ production of Wait Until Dark is performed at 7 p.m., Friday; and 2 and 7 p.m., and Saturday, through Saturday, May 17, at the Joslyn Center’s Arthur Newman Theatre, 73750 Catalina Way, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $23 to $25. For tickets or more information, call 760-980-1455, or visit www.dtworks.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

College of the Desert’s Les Misérables—at the McCallum Theatre

The McCallum hosts College of the Desert’s production of Les Misérables at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 1; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 2 and 3; and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 4. $25 to $45. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Equus—From Palm Canyon Theatre

The Tony Award-winning play about a psychologist’s attempts to understand a young man’s obsession with horses is performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 16 and 17; and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 18. $25. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

The Haunted Host—From Desert Rose Playhouse

The LGBT and LGBT-friendly playhouse presents one of the first contemporary gay plays, Robert Patrick’s comedy The Haunted Host, on the 50th anniversary of its Greenwich Village premiere, at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, May 2, through Sunday, June 1. $25 to $28. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Is It Just Me, or Is It Really Dumb in Here?—From Script2Stage2Screen

Local Jason Hull’s crazy sketch comedy is performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 2 and 3. $10. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, 72425 Via Vail, Rancho Mirage. 760-345-7938; www.script2stage2screen.com.

Nunset Boulevard—From Theatre 29

Nunset Boulevard follows the Little Sisters of Hoboken as they’re getting set to perform at what they think is the Hollywood Bowl; turns out it’s actually a bowling alley. Shows at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, through Saturday, May 24, with 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sunday, May 4 and 18. $12; $10 seniors and military; $8 students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org .

Swan Lake—From CK Dance

Local dance studio CK Dance presents the classic ballet, at 7 p.m., Friday, May 23; and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 24. $15 to $25. At the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org/annenberg-theater.

Thoroughly Modern Millie—From Palm Canyon Theatre

In the early 1920s, Millie has a goal: To marry a rich New Yorker and live the “modern” life. Of course, things don’t happen that easily; at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, May 2, through Sunday, May 11. $32; $10 students/children (call the box office). At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Wait Until Dark—From Desert Theatreworks

The thriller that was a Broadway hit before becoming a famous film starring Audrey Hepburn comes to the Joslyn Center stage, at 7 p.m., Friday; and 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, from Friday, May 9, through Saturday, May 17. $25; $23 students and seniors; special kids’ prices and group rates available. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

The Great American Trailer Park Musical debuted at the New York Theater Festival in 2004 and opened off-Broadway in September 2005. Today, the two-act musical, written by David Nehls and Betsy Kelso—which examines the relationships between the tenants at the Armadillo Acres Trailer Park in Starke, Fla.—has made its way to the desert, thanks to the efforts of Desert Theatreworks.

There’s not much of a plot; some of the characters need more fleshing out; and many of the songs are weak, but the show has enjoyed moderate success over the past 10 years. If you’re a Jeff Foxworthy fan and like your humor on the crass side, this show is right up your alley.

If the only criterion for reviewing a show was the earnest effort of the cast, Desert Theatreworks’ production would get five stars. Director Lance Phillips-Martinez has assembled a group of energetic actors with great comic timing who do their best to keep the audience smiling throughout the production.

So what’s the downside? The show is a musical, and many of those onstage lack the necessary singing ability. 

As the show opens, we meet Betty (Adina Lawson), Pickles (Briana Taylor) and Lin (Kitty Garascia)—whose name is short for linoleum, since she was born on the kitchen floor. The rousing first musical number, “This Side of the Tracks,” sets the tone of the narration and the commentary on trailer-park life that the trio provides. Though it’s one of the better songs, right away, issues of pitch and shrillness became apparent. Excess volume is also a problem. Nearly everyone in the cast seems to follow the “if in doubt, sing louder” mantra—something director and vocal coach Phillips-Martinez should have nipped in the bud. (I once had a fabulous musical theater instructor who said: “Loud does not equal better; it’s just loud.”)

Lawson fares the best. She hits the notes a bit more often than her cohorts, and her street-smart, cigarette-puffing Betty keeps us laughing, especially during the talk-show-spoofing The Great American TV Show. Taylor is amusing as the not-too-bright Pickles, and Garascia has her moments as the wife of a death-row inmate (who tries to postpone his execution by sabotaging the prison’s electricity).

The strongest pipes in the cast belong to Ashley Hernandez, as stripper-on-the-run Pippi, who arrives at Armadillo Acres and promptly starts an affair with tollbooth-collector Norbert Gastecki (Shawn Abramowitz). Norbert’s wife, Jeanne (Stacy Casaluci), is devoted but agoraphobic, and hasn’t stepped out of their trailer in years. Hernandez has a strong, pleasing voice, and has clearly had vocal training—but even she occasionally pushes too hard. Abramowitz captures the essence of Norbert, who feels guilty about cheating on his wife, but is also frustrated by her neurosis. Sadly, he is not a singer. His duet with Casaluci (“Owner of My Heart”) just did not work, because the harmonies seemed off. Though she has a pretty voice well-suited to the quiet solo numbers, Casaluci becomes shrill at times.

Rounding out the ensemble, Stephen McMillen delivers a nice comic turn as Pippi’s marker-inhaling ex-boyfriend, Duke. 

Kudos go to Ron Phillips-Martinez for the sets and costumes, which are quite good. The lighting, sound and choreography are all fine. 

The opening-night audience seemed to enjoy The Great American Trailer Park Musical at the Joslyn Center’s Arthur Newman Theatre, though applause following many of the musical numbers was not always very enthusiastic.

The show is loud, colorful, tacky and, most important, fun. If you don’t go expecting beautiful singing, or songs you can whistle on your way home, you just might like it.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical, a production of Desert Theatreworks, is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, March 23, at the Joslyn Center’s Arthur Newman Theatre, 73750 Catalina Way, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $25 general; and $23 for seniors and students. For tickets or more information, call 760-980-1455, or visit www.dtworks.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

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