CVIndependent

Sun11172019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Hang in there, because summer is almost over. The kids are back in school; it’s starting to feel a little bit like season; and there are plenty of great shows to see.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has a full list of September events. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 2, former Traffic frontman Steve Winwood will be performing. Traffic is one of the most iconic British rock bands from the ’60s—and Winwood is a legend. Tickets are $49 to $89. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 16, it’ll be like rain on your wedding day, a free ride when you’ve already been paid, and the good advice you didn’t take when Alanis Morissette stops by. Alanis has had a fascinating career, going from You Can’t Do That on Television to a period as of the biggest pop-stars of the ’90s. Plus, it’s kinda weird that “You Oughta Know” is most likely about her tumultuous relationship with Full House star Dave Coulier. Tickets are $49 to $109. At 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 29, get ready to rock when Tom Jones takes the stage. Yeah … that Tom Jones. Does “It’s Not Unusual” ring any bells? Random factoid: I’m booking a series of shows at The Hood Bar and Pizza, and I asked Charlie Ellis, frontman of local band Mighty Jack, if he would be interested in playing that night. His response: He couldn’t, because he was going to see Tom Jones. Tickets are $49 to $109. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa is offering a couple of events that will heat up your September. At 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 15, Styx (right) will be returning to the Coachella Valley. The band just put out a new album titled The Mission—and fans are loving it. Former frontman Dennis DeYoung still is hoping for a reunion, but the band members have seemingly raised their middle finger toward that idea. Tickets are $55 to $85. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 16, Los Tigres del Norte will be performing. Los Tigres del Norte is just as successful as Metallica—only in Latin music; the band has sold 30 million records. That’s pretty impressive! Tickets are $65 to $115. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Spotlight 29 Casino has some fun shows on Saturdays this month. Norteño music legends Ramon Ayala y su Bravos del Norte will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 16. Tickets are $35 to $55. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 23, it’ll be the night of the Latin Kings of Comedy, with Manny Maldonado, Joey Medina, Jackson Purdue and headliner Paul Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a huge name in Latin comedy, and he’s appeared in numerous films. He’s probably best remembered for his performances in Born in East L.A. and Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles. Tickets are $20 to $35. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 30, get ready for a night of soul with Tower of Power (below). Despite some hardships, the band still lives on, and is known for fantastic live shows. Tickets are $20 to $40. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Beyond the nearly sold-out Thunder From Down Under show (Sept. 8) and the REO Speedwagon concert, which you can read about elsewhere in this issue, Morongo Casino Resort Spa has one more event you won’t want to miss: At 5 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 10, Bamboo and Morissette Amon will be performing. After watching videos of them doing covers of popular R&B songs such as “What’s Going On” and “Man in the Mirror,” I’ll say this will be a fun Sunday-evening show to take in. Tickets are $50 to $70. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, as always, has a crazy-good calendar. At 5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 16, there will be a fundraiser to help Eagles of Death Metal bassist Brian O’Connor, who is once again battling cancer. On the bill are Chris Goss, Mojave Lords, Mark Lanegan and other special guests. Tickets are $50. At 8 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 21, local band Giselle Woo and the Night Owls will take the stage. Giselle is one hell of a performer, and she’s always put on a great show when I’ve seen her. Admission is free. At 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 29, former Old Crow Medicine Show guitarist and banjo player Willie Watson will be appearing. Watson has been performing solo ever since leaving the band in 2011. Tickets are $15. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

The Purple Room comes back to life in September after taking a couple of months off. Jazz great Diane Schuur kicks things off on Sept. 1 and 2 with two sold-out shows, but there are tickets available for a lot of other great events. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 16, get ready to swing to ’60s music with Kate Campbell and the Martini Kings. The Martini Kings are no strangers to the Purple Room; the band put on a great Christmas show there last year. Tickets are $25 to $30. At 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 17, Michael Holmes and the Judy Show will be celebrating 10 Years of Dezart Performs: All of the proceeds will go to our good friends at Dezart Performs, one of the valley’s best theater companies. Tickets are $25 to $30. Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-322-4422; www.purpleroompalmsprings.com.

Published in Previews

Michael Shaw, the artistic director and co-founder of Dezart Performs, had no idea what he was getting himself into when he helped start the theater company back in 2008.

“I was living in Los Angeles, so I was running the theater with my co-founder at the time,” Shaw said. “I went back and forth … and was still holding down my job in Los Angeles. I realized for it to grow, I needed to be here full-time. I needed to be entrenched in the community, because in order to be successful, you need to be in the community and get support for a nonprofit.

“I thought going into it that it was an avenue to explore new scripts. I really went into this thinking, ‘No stress; it’ll be fun. It’ll be an outlet to explore my creative side as an actor’—and the first four years, it was exactly that. But when you decide to take it to the next level, there are responsibilities that come with that. Things mushroomed and grew.”

Things mushroomed and grew so much, in fact, that Dezart Performs is outgrowing its home, the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club. That’s why Shaw recently announced Dezart was embarking on a campaign to raise money for a new and bigger theater to call home.

Dezart Performs is not alone. Coachella Valley Repertory announced last year it had agreed to purchase the Desert Cinemas movie theater building in Cathedral City and turn it into the company’s new home, after outgrowing spaces in The Atrium shopping center in Rancho Mirage. Meanwhile, Desert Theatreworks outgrew its space at the Arthur Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center in Palm Desert and just moved into a new space at the Indio Performing Arts Center.

Yep: Local theater companies are on the move.


Michael Shaw (far left) and the company of Dezart Performs' Casa Valentina watch as makeup artist James Geier demonstrates makeup techniques on actor Dale Morris. COURTESY OF CLARK DUGGERWhen Shaw (pictured here, at the far left) and co-founder Daniela Ryan began Dezart Performs, the company placed an emphasis on finding and developing brand-new plays. However, in recent years, Dezart Performs has shifted its focus away from new plays, and toward edgier fare. For example, the 2016-2017 season included Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, a play based on a real-life haven for transvestites in the 1960s, and Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, a play that tackles issues of race, housing and gentrification.

“Our season has an obligation to deliver socially relevant and provocative story lines. We’ve always tried to do that—and our audiences didn’t expect that in our little town a few years ago,” Shaw said. “They say, ‘I really love A Chorus Line,’ and didn’t expect to see Clybourne Park, which not only uses the F-word quite often, but also uses the C-word. When I read the script, I thought, ‘Oh my God! They’re going to pull out pitchforks and torches!’ (But audiences) loved the fact they were challenged and, in the context of the storyline, felt (such language) was necessary. The audience is there with you. That’s exciting. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have done Clybourne Park, and wouldn’t have expected that.”

Shaw said he’s enjoyed watching the Coachella Valley theater world grow and prosper.

“All of the theater directors are friends,” he said. “We all communicate; we all get together and see each other’s shows; and we all support each other. We make an effort to support each other, because we need more than one theater. You can’t have just one hamburger joint or one grocery store. We all have that same belief in supporting theater in the community.”

Dezart’s fundraising campaign for a new facility is in its initial stages, Shaw said.

“What we’re doing is announcing the pledge drive and setting in motion the path to achieve all of the things we need to for us to say, ‘We have now secured a facility, and we’re now in renovation,’” he said. But we’re a few years off from that. We’re establishing a position for a director of development, fundraising, and consulting to put us in a place where we, as an organization, can solidify the foundation and the people we need to make it happen. It means bringing on more staff, funding that staff, and taking a number of things off my plate so I can continue to grow in my role as the artistic director. I wear many hats, but I’m also only one person. Even with the support of volunteers, we need to start thinking ahead and ask, ‘What do we need to do to allow us to grow our programming?’”


CV Rep's Ron Celona and Gary D. Hall (left) sign the option agreement to purchase the former IMAX theater in Cathedral City with city officials Joe Giarrusso and Tami Scott (right).The Coachella Valley Repertory, currently based at The Atrium in Rancho Mirage, was also founded in 2008. It’s the only company in the valley that has Small Professional Theatre status with the Actors’ Equity union.

Founder and artistic director Ron Celona said the theater has grown well beyond what was originally planned.

“We were 2 years old, using outside venues, before we were able to rent our own space,” Celona said. “Our first big milestone was moving into (a space in) The Atrium in Rancho Mirage, which was an empty shell. We hired a contractor to build our 86-seat theater, lobby and box office. We expanded to the next unit, building offices for staff. … The first hire was a box-office staff member, and little by little, we have grown to be an eight-full-time-staff company. It might be called show business, and it’s certainly a business—and it needs to be run like a business.”

Celona said business success led to CV Rep’s current status.

“We started as a non-union theater that contracted Equity actors. A few years back, the accomplishment of the company as a business allowed us to become a full-fledged Equity house. It makes Coachella Valley Repertory the only Equity house in the Coachella Valley,” Celona said. “What that does is gives us national coverage.”

Celona said the CV Rep production of Terrence McNally’s Master Class in 2013 marked a key moment in the company’s history.

“That particular production was a turning point for Coachella Valley Repertory. Why? Because of the recognition of its production values and the cast,” Celona said. “Basically, we got a wide word of mouth, and it spread like wildfire. People who had never heard of us started to check us out. Prior to that, it was very much a small, contained following. Our subscription base was around 300, and afterward, we shot up to 700 to 800 subscribers the following year. Each year since, we’ve grown by about 200.

With that increase in subscribers, and 8,000 people attending the 2016-2017 season shows—in an 86-seat theater—it’s time for CV Rep to move into a bigger space.

“We have signed an option with the city of Cathedral City to purchase the old IMAX movie theater and two adjoining restaurants—the building and the land,” Celona said. “We have until June 2018 to execute that option. Basically, what that means is we’ve had a capital campaign since October 2016 to raise the money we need. The total campaign is a $6 million campaign. We’re just shy of our first $1 million as of right now. We need at least a percentage of that ($6 million) campaign to enter the agreement and break ground and build a state-of-the-art playhouse.”

Celona said he’s proud of the mark that CV Rep and the valley’s other theater companies have left on the valley.

“I think any arts organization in the community … we’re all making a difference,” Celona said. “The difference is to enlighten, inspire and educate our community to be a better place to live in, and (for us to be) better human beings in the world. Theater has always been a mirror to its community.”


Desert Theatreworks has grown in popularity and size since the community-based theater company was formed 2013, in part because the company produces a wide variety of shows, according to artistic director Lance Phillips-Martinez.

“In our first season, we had around 2,000 people who came through and bought tickets. Last year, we had 8,000 people who bought tickets,” Phillips-Martinez said. “We’ve tried to do a diverse amount of productions, and not just things that are interesting to us. What we try to do is broaden our audience with every show that we do, or pick a different type of show in our season that will bring in different audiences and keep them coming back.”

Phillips-Martinez cited a 2015 production of Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone as a show that furthered Desert Theatreworks’ reputation.

“We did it in September that year, when the audiences aren’t always bountiful, and it was nice to get that critical response—and the audiences just kept coming back,” He said. “It was a big hit for us, and it was a different type of show. … We staged and choreographed nearly every number and theme transition. It was all original and a lot of fun.”

Phillips-Martinez said he’s had to battle commonly held assumptions about community theater.

“The public perception that community theater is of a lesser quality is a challenge,” he said. “… The work will speak for itself. If you focus on quality, you can put on whatever you want in your space, and your audience will trust you. That’s what the original challenge was—changing the perception of what community theater is.”

I could hear the excitement in Phillips-Martinez’s voice when he talked about Desert Theatreworks’ move from the Arthur Newman Theatre in Palm Desert’s Joslyn Center to the Indio Performing Arts Center.

“We had outgrown the (Desert Theatreworks space at the Arthur Newman Theatre). We had asked for more space, and they had more to give, but for whatever reason, they were not willing to do that, and it’s fine,” Phillips-Martinez said. “Our customers wanted us to stay there and wrote more than 700 letters to the city of Palm Desert, but after much deliberation and trying, it didn’t happen.

“The city of Indio offered us the space. A solution was made quickly, and the show must go on. We love the space, and the city of Indio is our partner in producing our shows. They’re helping us promote our shows as well. It’s very nice to get a municipality’s support in producing shows, because it gives (us) some new support that we didn’t have before.”

The Indio Performing Arts Center has long had challenges attracting tenants and audiences. However, Phillips-Martinez said that it’ll work out just fine for Desert Theatreworks.

“One of the advantages that we have is we have such a good track record of producing shows, and (a large) number of shows we’ve presented, which is 32 main-stage productions,” he said. “Most theater companies that are local only do three or four a year; we produce eight to 10. If you’re looking for viability and sustainability, (the larger number of shows) is more attractive in sustaining a place like that. The possibilities are good.”

Published in Theater and Dance

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.

Published in Theater and Dance

Frankly, I was uncomfortable going to see Clybourne Park, Dezart Performs’ latest production.

The setting for this “Black (and White) Comedy by Bruce Norris,” as the play’s poster says, is Chicago—in 1959 for Act 1, then fast-forwarding 50 years to the same house in 2009 for Act 2. The show won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2011, as well as the Tony Award for Best Play in 2012, and it requires a cast of eight—a sea change for Dezart, which until previous show Casa Valentina, always kept the cast size small (possibly because of those dressing rooms?).

The play deals with the always-awkward topic of race and real estate. My husband, Ted, was born in Chicago, and we have discussed the way his city divided up into enclaves dominated by Italians, Greeks, Germans, Scandinavians and African Americans. For those who can remember the bad old days of segregated neighborhoods and the “blockbusting” that took place, this play could serve as an unpleasant reminder. Yes, it’s important for the generations who have followed to be informed of this country’s often-dark history, lest we romanticize the past by forgetting how life really was back then … but I concede I was uncomfortable seeing a play tackle such an awkward topic.

But … what a surprise: This production is amazing! The writing is just astonishing. The conversation is completely realistic, with people butting in, cutting each other off, misinterpreting and talking when they should be listening. Clybourne Park is a magnificent example of playwright Bruce Norris’ magisterial command of the language and his shrewd understanding of people.

The direction by Michael Shaw is incredibly impressive, with his steady hand guiding the actors to performances even and strong throughout. He gets credit for total success with the extraordinarily difficult lines. (He confided to me afterward that the greatest part of their rehearsals was spent perfecting the speeches and dialogue, some of which require a language warning.) Each of the actors was allowed to develop his or her character(s) so the “voice” of each role is clarion clear. But it is the director’s prodigious talent and multiple skills that create the play’s consistency of tone. The blocking is also textbook perfection. Wow.

And the acting … oh my! Everyone is a “character”—well, actually, two. The whole cast (with one exception) plays two roles: One in 1959, and a different individual in 2009. One of the delights of this production is seeing the characters the actors have developed. We watch a complete person in each act—the good, bad and ugly. We see their pain, their tempers, their sweetness and their struggles. We glimpse their past history and get to know them more intimately than you’d think the time would permit.

David Youse opens the first act and dominates it; he’s a lit fuse we fear will explode—but when? His Russ is a man-in-a-grey-flannel-suit type, but we see so much more danger simmering beneath his surface. We search for a clue about his repressed anger, but dread finding it. His second-act role of Dan is a chameleonic contrast—he’s a blasé construction worker with a totally different voice, stance and attitude. What fun! Now THIS is acting.

Playing his wife, Bev, in Act 1 is Theresa Jewett. She’s a perfect product of 1950s-era women’s magazines and advertising—not just in her voice and appearance, but also in her dizzy attitude and even her belief system. But watch that heart-shaped face manage an enormous range of emotions—the way she handles a distancing husband, her black housekeeper, or her painful memories. She transmogrifies for Act 2 into Kathy, a feisty blonde lawyer with attitude—a delicious contrast, and equally believable.

Desiree Clarke in Act 1, plays Francine, a black maid who expertly balances the subservience of a domestic with her own dignity and her inborn sense of right and wrong. She is beautifully complex, and she gains our respect. In Act 2, Clark becomes Lena, a new-millennium woman with power and a strong sense of self which she asserts fearlessly but quietly. Her flawless diction is lovely.

Robert Rancano is Jim, a hapless cleric whose rigid adherence to his teachings and rather poor understanding of his parishioners makes him, despite his great voice, an ineffective and predictable minister. Rancano creates this memorable character by making him forgettable. In Act 2, he’s Tom, who is supposed to be leading this meeting about the contract, but is preoccupied and distracted. Rancano gives a subtle performance that required a lot of thinking.

Robert Ramirez creates the role of Albert, the husband of Francine, striving to appear at ease in this Act 1 white household. Ramirez gives a multi-layered performance almost entirely with his extraordinarily expressive eyes. He draws our attention with few words but plenty of reaction. In Act 2, he becomes Kevin, married to Lena, a smart and confident professional with nothing left to prove about himself. You like him in both of his well-developed roles.

Rob Hubler appears as Karl in Act 1, and earns our great admiration thanks to his willingness to appear foolish. A well-meaning bungler, his friendship is almost a liability, despite his sincerity and his fine voice. Hubler adroitly switches to Steve in Act 2, playing a stronger person who comes to surprise us—and his wife—with his odd and previously unexpressed views.

The extraordinary role of Betsy, played by Phylicia Mason, gives us a dear character who is not only pregnant, but deaf. She is very credible, including the gentle forgiveness she shows her husband, Karl, as he misspells his sign language (yes, I caught that), and to people who thoughtlessly turn away from her while speaking—or who stupidly yell at her, hoping to be heard. Lovely acting! In Act 2, she is uncomfortably pregnant AGAIN, but this time as Lindsay, married to Steve, and now is a very vocal, assertive and even sometimes shrill creature.

The lone character who plays just one role is Sean Timothy Brown, who is Kenneth. He appears as a perfect military prototype—handsome, tall and fit, looking fabulous in uniform. We don’t know him long enough to appreciate all of his subtleties, but he is hugely affecting with his air of tragedy in this flashback. Again, we are reminded how effective even a small role can be.

Kudos to the cast, the director the entire supportive crew of this play for a job superbly done. Clybourne Park is the surprise of the season, with its controversial, occasionally offensive and sometimes hilarious script. Don’t doubt that you will be surprised by it, too.

Clybourne Park, a production of Dezart Performs, is performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Jan. 22, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $25 to $30. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit www.dezartperforms.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Best Tearjerker

Dezart Performs’ Production of The Outgoing Tide

I went to see the final performance of The Outgoing Tide—Dezart Performs’ 2015-2016 season-closing play—back in May with my friend Robert. Both Robert and I are … well, curmudgeonly, to put it kindly. While we had high expectations due to the production’s rave reviews—about an older couple and their adult son coming to terms with the father’s advancing Alzheimer’s disease—we most certainly did not expect to be blubbering our eyes out at the end … and there we were, along with much of the rest of the audience at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, sniffling and weeping. Judith Chapman, Scott Smith and most especially Michael Fairman (who played Gunner, the father) knocked it out of the figurative park, thanks in no small part due to the amazing direction by Michael Shaw. If you ever hear of this play being performed elsewhere, I highly recommend going to see it—but I’d be shocked if that show is as good as the one put onstage last spring by Dezart Performs. Jeez, I am tearing up just thinking about it.

—Jimmy Boegle


Best Tailor

Pero Dzekov at Pero’s Tailor Shop

For more than 45 years, Pero Dzekov has worked in a trade that does not forgive a mistake: He’s a tailor, a master craftsman whose clients include celebrities of a highest caliber, including Frank Sinatra and Barry Manilow. Both singers have penned accolades to him on their photographs that hang in his Smoke Tree Village shop. Dzekov, an immigrant from Macedonia, is fond of saying that his favorite clients were publisher Walter Annenberg and Agua Caliente Tribal Chairman Richard Milanovich. On any given day, you’ll see familiar faces in his shop—former Palm Springs Mayor Ron Oden, perhaps, or Palm Springs City Manager David Ready—but Dzekov is most proud of the fact that many of his clients have been repeatedly coming back since the 1970s.

—Brane Jevric


Best Local Album

Bridger, Forces Against Us

Many great bands in the Coachella Valley released fantastic albums over the last year, including Dali’s Llama and The Hellions. However, to my ear, there is one new album that stands out: Bridger’s Forces Against Us. Numerous local musicians took to social media to express their love for the album; however, making a great album wasn’t enough for the band: Bridger even made a hilarious music video for the Forces Against Us song “Death to Snowbirds,” There’s no doubt that Bridger is an awesome live band—and Forces Among Us proved that Bridger can turn in fantastic music in the studio, too.

—Brian Blueskye


Best Ukulele Master

John Robbins

John Robbins is a well-known local musician—who plays a not-so-well-known instrument: He plays a mean ukulele. Robbins has opened many shows for local bands, and he recently took part in an acoustic showcase. Robbins, who is visually impaired, also has many other talents, including being visual artist; in fact, he recently signed with an independent Web-based comic publisher. When you mention John’s name to local musicians or music fans, the first thing they say often say is, “The guy who plays an awesome ukulele?” He deserves all the recognition he can get.

—Brian Blueskye


Best Guilty Pleasure Food

The Atomic Tots at The Hood Bar and Pizza

When I need comfort food and don’t give a rat’s behind about diet or calories … chances are you’ll find me devouring the atomic tots at The Hood Bar and Pizza. They’re definitely not good for you (I hope my primary care physician isn’t reading this), but that gooey cheese and the bits of bacon melted all over those little potato barrels create a piece of fat-intensive heaven. I’m not the only one with these feelings for the atomic tots; many locals frequent The Hood Bar and Pizza just for these tasty treats.

—Brian Blueskye


Best Place to Pig Out on Sugar-Free Desserts

The Fresh Grill Buffet at Fantasy Springs

Gym workouts have minimal effects on me, and no diet seems to last … but at least I get some small bit of dietary help at the Fresh Grill Buffet at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino: It features an ample selection of delicious sugar-free desserts every day at lunch and dinner. At the giant dessert table (two levels tall, with a chocolate fountain and soft-serve ice cream to boot), an entire section is devoted to lower-calorie goodies. Gorgeous layer cakes, crumbly cookies, pies and even cheesecake are available—and since it’s a buffet, have as much as you like! However, consider yourself warned: The white sauce beside the cheesecake is loaded with sugar, and sometimes cobblers that are not sugar-free will elbow their way into this space. Whenever I meet the chefs, I thank them on behalf of my endangered waistline. For those born with a sweet tooth, here is our salvation. Just don’t look at the sugary competition on the rest of the table.

—Valerie-Jean (V.J.) Hume


Best Happy Hour Meal

The Capricciosa Pizza at Piero’s PizzaVino

There are many, many dining options in Palm Desert on or near El Paseo—but when I find myself hungry while running around the area, more often than not, I wind up in the bar area of Piero’s PizzaVino. Why? Well, every day from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Piero’s offers one of the area’s most amazing happy hour menus—including the unbelievably delicious capricciosa pizza. This amazing pie comes with tomato sauce, mozzarella, ham, mushrooms, artichoke hearts and olives—and it’s always cooked to perfection in Piero’s brick oven. Not only does this personal-size pizza taste amazing and fill you up; it only costs $8.90. Add in a tasty glass of the house chianti for $5, and you can still get out of there with tax and a nice tip for less than $20. What a deal.

—Jimmy Boegle

Published in Staff Picks

How far should spousal loyalty go when your mate’s creative expression causes you emotional pain? When does a risqué hobby become deviancy—and who decides what’s deviant, anyway?

These are the questions examined in Dezart Performs’ production of Casa Valentina. Harvey Fierstein’s provocative play earned four Tony nominations, including one for Best New Play, in 2014. The time in Casa Valentina is 1962—a more innocent yet much less tolerant era. A group of professional heterosexual men gather at a bungalow in the Catskills to relax and blow off steam. They eat, drink, dance and laugh—all while dressed as women.

This haven for transvestites really existed, at a resort called Chevalier d’Eon, named after an 18th-century cross-dresser. The story was revealed when antiques dealer Robert Swopes stumbled across a box of pictures at a Manhattan flea market. Each photo captured these men in all their feminine glory: Bewigged and clad in dresses, heels and pearls, group members were shown doing mundane things like sipping coffee and playing cards. Intrigued, Swopes purchased the photos and put them together in a book called Café Susanna in 2005.

In the play, the establishment (here called “Casa Valentina”) is run by George (aka Valentina), played by Scott Smith, and his long-suffering wife, Rita (Tammy Hubler). As the show opens, they are preparing for yet another weekend of hosting men who relax by taking on their female personas for a few days. The couple is anticipating the arrival of a new guest, Jonathan (Cameron Shingler), also known as Miranda.

The strong bond between Rita and George is apparent. They banter back and forth while she lovingly pins on his wig cap as he begins his transformation into Valentina. It’s clear that Rita long ago accepted her husband’s predilection, and adores him in spite of it. “There’s no secret to being popular with men … just never say no,” she says. Smith is excellent as Valentina. You can feel both his devotion to Rita and his compulsion to express his feminine side.

Soon we meet Albert/Bessie (Jeffrey Norman), resplendent in an over-sized housecoat and hot pink turban. A plus-sized cross-dresser, Bessie relishes every moment as a woman. Norman is a hoot as he tosses off some of the best lines in the show. When someone brings up the inadequacies of the male form, Bessie quips, “I once had a male form; I filled it out and mailed it back!”

A pivotal character in the play is the judge (the exceptional Bruce Cronander), who strides in with a shotgun. His professional position and penchant for firearms are irrelevant when he slips off his robe to reveal a floral satin dress and coos, “Hello, Amy, I’ve missed you!”

When Theodore/Terry (the fabulous Garnett Smith) must jump up shortly after perching on a chair, he complains, “Just when I got my skirt to lay right on the first try.”

Cameron Shingler ably captures the awkwardness and insecurity young Jonathan feels as the newcomer to the group. Getting settled in his room, he clutches a flowered frock, seemingly not knowing what to do with it. The other “girls” soon rally around him, giving him a proper makeover, complete with phony breasts and hips, cosmetics and jewelry. Their enthusiastic efforts to transform him into Miranda are touching.

The cast is excellent across the board, but San Diego resident Dale Morris as Isadore/Charlotte deserves special mention. Looking stunning in his gold lame blouse, designer suite and heels, he clearly revels in the freedom to express his inner diva. But he also knows the risk involved in theses activities, and chafes at society’s disapproval. As he admonishes one of the group’s younger members, “I’ve gone to jail so you don’t have to!”

Kevin Coubal (Michael/Gloria) is the most traditionally attractive woman of the group, by far. Statuesque in his heels, he flips his long auburn curls constantly and really works it. He is the standout when the girls perform a cute lip-synced version of “Bye, Bye Blackbird” with the jukebox.

Louise Ross appears briefly toward the end of the play as Eleanor, the judge’s daughter. The always-dependable Ross ably conveys the pain, anger and resentment as she deals with her cross-dressing family member.

Things turn serious when Charlotte announces that the “sorority” has incorporated as a nonprofit organization and needs to appoint officers. Some members aren’t thrilled about that, preferring to just keep things as they are. Their weekend escapades are harmless, they say, and the fewer people who know about them, the better. But Charlotte argues that secrecy is the enemy. Then things really get crazy when Charlotte asks each member to sign a document barring homosexuals from joining the group. In 1962, it seems, cross-dressers believed that putting on a dress was OK, but actually having sex with a man was true deviancy. The guests at Casa Valentina are divided on the issue. Since the gay community often accepted “the girls” when no on else would, they feel the need to return that loyalty. The booze-fueled tension finally explodes in an act of violence.

The costumes, makeup, wigs and lighting are all right on the money. There was only one problem with Dezart’s Casa Valentina on opening night, but it was distracting: There were many occasions when some of the actors could not be heard. In a theater the size of the Pearl McManus, one would not think that body microphones should be necessary. The hum of the building’s air conditioning unit was a factor, but it really comes down to projecting: Actors of this caliber know how to project, and did so during much of the show. But at several dramatic moments, the actors were inaudible. It was particularly annoying when much of the audience could not hear the last two or three lines of the play, delivered by the otherwise-superb Tammy Huber.

This an important play and a terrific production. Michael Shaw’s direction is spot-on. I only hope he corrects the sound issue so valley audiences can enjoy Casa Valentina in its entirety.

Casa Valentina, a production of Dezart Performs, is performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 13, at the Pearl McManus Theater (inside the historic Palm Springs Woman’s Club), 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in downtown Palm Springs. Tickets run $25 to $30. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit www.dezartperforms.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Dezart Performs has developed a reputation for presenting bold and avant-garde theatrical productions—so it means something when artistic director Michael Shaw says that the 2016-2017 season is Dezart’s boldest yet.

Shaw says he has a fondness socially relevant yet “wacky” plays. Casa Valentina, Dezart’s season-opener, certainly fits that bill.

Written by Harvey Fierstein, Casa Valentina received four 2014 Tony Award nominations, including a nomination for Best Play. Set in the Catskills in 1962, the play offers a peek into the lives of heterosexual men who enjoy dressing up and behaving like women. During the week, they pursue respectable careers as ad execs, lawyers and sales reps—but when the weekend rolls around, they cut loose and take on their female personas. Casa Valentina is owned and operated by George—whose alter ego is Valentina—as well as George’s wife, Rita.

The play is based on a real-life haven for heterosexual transvestites that was originally called Chevalier d’Eon, named after an 18th century cross-dresser and spy. The story of the place, later named Casa Susanna, came to light when antiques dealer Robert Swope bought a box of 100 photographs at a Manhattan flea market; the pictures all depict men dressed as women watering the lawn, playing bridge, etc. In 2005, Swope published the pictures in a book, Café Susanna.

Shaw says the play intrigues him, because he learned a lot from it—especially about transvestites.

“It’s a community that I am totally naïve about,” Shaw says. “I think there’s a perception that transvestites usually relate as gay. That’s not the truth.”

Shaw says authentic, realistic hair, makeup and costumes are crucial to the play. He cites a quote from the character of Bessie, talking to newbie Jonathon/Miranda: “… Our goal is to assimilate. The more you look as if you just stepped away from a bridge table, the higher we grade you. Passing undetected is our zenith.”

There’s no dress or makeup in the play that’s over the top. Wig and costume fittings were done early in the rehearsal process, and the actors have been working in high heels and skirts since the rehearsals began. The male cast members got lessons in how to apply makeup with a softer touch—the way real women do.

Dezart Performs received a huge assist from the Pasadena Playhouse, which produced Casa Valentina earlier this year: The renowned company is lending Dezart all of the costumes and jewelry used in the play.

Shaw says that due to the show’s rich dialogue and well-written characters, Casa Valentina is one of the strongest season openers Dezart has ever produced.

“It teaches us that it’s very important to learn about those around you,” he says. “The transvestite group saw themselves as normal while viewing the gay community as deviants. They saw what they were doing as simply creative expression; they were fulfilling a desire to show their feminine sides. The crux of the play is the conflict between two factions of the transvestite society—one sympathetic to the gay community, and one most definitely not.

“One of (character) Charlotte’s lines is quite telling: ‘Fifty years from now, when homosexuals are still scuttling about as the back-alley vermin of society, cross-dressing will be as every-day as cigarette-smoking.’”

Casa Valentina also marks another first for Dezart: The nine cast members make up the largest cast the company has ever had. Shaw also says the cast is one of the best.

The second he saw San Diego resident Dale Morris, Shaw says, he knew Morris would be perfect as Charlotte; Shaw even applauded after Morris’ audition, he said.

Morris says that being cast in the play is a blessing—although he added that playing an unlikable character can be challenging. A theater veteran, Morris lists performing in His Girl Friday at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego and playing George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as two of his career highlights.

Though Morris claims there has been no competition among the male cast members as to who is the best-looking “woman” onstage, he admits he wanted to look pretty when he first got the gig.

For what it’s worth, he apparently pulled it off: Shaw says that when Morris first walked across the stage in high heels, he was impressed with the actor’s calves, and notes that Morris is “stunning” in his gold lame blouse.

Shaw says there are two good reasons Palm Springs theater-goers should see Dezart’s production of Casa Valentina. One is the superb cast. The other?

“If you think you’ve seen cross dressing before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” he said.

Casa Valentina, a production of Dezart Performs, will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Nov. 4, through Sunday, Nov. 13, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $25 to $30. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit www.dezartperforms.org. Below: Actors in Casa Valentina pose for a photo in a rehearsal scene that includes Garnett Smith, Kevin Coubal, Dale Morris, Scott Smith, Jeffrey Norman and Tammy Hubler. Photo courtesy of Clark Dugger.

Published in Theater and Dance

The Coachella Valley and High Desert are blessed with a variety of unique and ambitious local theater companies.

But you would not necessarily know that’s the case in August: Not one of the Coachella Valley companies had a single regular show scheduled during the month. However, perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned over at Desert Rose Playhouse: The company just extended its run of Party by three weeks thanks to brisk ticket sales, so instead of ending on July 31, the comedy will now run through Aug. 21.

In other words … there is indeed a theater audience around during the summer. Well, at least there is if a show involves nudity.

Anyway, here’s what local theater-lovers can look forward to from the valley’s most prominent theater companies during the upcoming season.

Coachella Valley Repertory Company

cvrep.org

CV Rep made headlines in July when it was announced that the theater company, which currently resides in the Atrium shopping center in Rancho Mirage, had agreed to purchase the Desert Cinemas theater in Cathedral City.

Wow!

But for now, CV Rep has a season to put on, and every season, founding artistic director Ron Celona chooses a theme. So what can theater-goers expect this coming season? A lot of “Love, Marriage and Life Changing Events.”

The valley’s only Equity Small Professional Theatre will launch its sixth season at the Atrium with Annapurna, by Sharr White, running Oct. 26-Nov. 20. Talk about a life-changing event: “Twenty years after leaving her husband, Emma tracks him to a trailer park in the middle of nowhere for a final reckoning.” From Jan. 18-Feb. 12, things will get a little lighter with Baby. Nominated for seven Tony Awards, “Baby is about three couples on a university campus dealing with the painful, rewarding and agonizingly funny consequences of the universal experience of pregnancy and upcoming parenthood.” The 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama went to Amir Kapoor’s Disgraced, about a Pakistani-American lawyer who is distancing himself from his roots. Meanwhile, his wife, Emily, is a white artist influenced by Islamic imagery. Hmm. The play runs March 7-April 2. The season concludes April 25-May 21 with A.R. Gurney’s Later Life, a story about a romance being rekindled 30 years after it began.

Coyote StageWorks

www.coyotestageworks.org

The last couple of seasons have been turbulent for founding artistic director Chuck Yates’ renowned company. After losing its home at the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum in 2014-2015, the company returned to the theater for the 2015-2016 season for Art and Agnes, both of which received rave reviews.

As for the upcoming season … well, Coyote StageWorks is the only company in town that has yet to spill any of the figurative beans. When I reached out to Yates via email for information as deadline approached, he politely responded: “I am still securing rights to our new season. It will celebrate Legendary Ladies, who have made their marks in the world. All of the shows are comedic, but legally I can’t announce titles until everything is sewn up.”

Yates would also like you to know that between now and Labor Day, any gifts the Equity professional theater company receives, up to $30,000 total, will be generously matched by Emmy Award-winning television producer and writer David Lee, best known forFrasier and Cheers. So … give!

Desert Ensemble Theatre Company

www.facebook.com/DETCStage

Now entering its sixth season, the Desert Ensemble Theatre Company—which shares the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club with Dezart Performs—in recent years has kept things in the family by producing a lot of company members’ own works, and the 2016-2017 season will be no exception.

DETC’s third annual season-opening gala will take place Nov. 18. Boys Night Out, conceived and directed by Jerome Elliott, features popular local singers such as Charles Herrera and Doug Graham. The season will kick off in earnest with Expressions, a new drama by DETC’s Shawn Abramowitz, focusing PTSD and its effect on both veterans and their families; it runs Feb. 3-12. From March 17-26, the company will produce artistic director Tony Padilla’s Lovesport, a fast-paced comedy: “When middle-aged couple Josh and Marty invite home the younger Gary and Ben for after-party drinks, the wine flows, the weed blows, and relationships are changed.” A third, yet-to-be-announced play will be performed April 21-30.

Desert Rose Playhouse

www.desertroseplayhouse.org

It’s been a turbulent year for the valley’s LGBT-focused theater company. In January, founders Jim Strait and Paul Taylor pulled off the seemingly impossible: The company mounted an amazing production of the elaborate Angels in America, Part One, in the playhouse’s barely-bigger-than-a-black-box home in Rancho Mirage.

Problem is, few people wanted to go watch such heavy fare: The show tanked financially. That, combined with a drop in donations, jeopardized Desert Rose’s 2016-2017 season.

However, the company has been saved by a boost in donations over the summer—and by a Party: Desert Rose’s nudity-laden summer comedy has been a wild success, so much so that the company just extended its run by three weeks, through Aug. 21.

Artistic director Jim Strait got a late start on the 2016-2017 season due to the financial uncertainty, but here’s what he’d confirmed as of our press deadline: The season will kick off with Poz, by Michael Aman, running Sept. 30-Oct. 23: “A delightfully unlikelycomedyset in 2003, (Poz is) the story ofEdison, a young actor/waiter with leukemia, and Robert, an older HIV+ man.” The company’s annual holiday show has not yet been nailed down, but it’ll run Nov. 18-Dec. 18. From Jan. 20-Feb. 12, Desert Rose’s annual “Gay Heritage Production” will be Charles Busch’s campy and hilarious Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, along with its companion piece, Coma, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. That will be followed up by Del Shores’ Southern Baptist Sissies, running March 17-April 9. The final show of the season, scheduled for April 28-May 21, can’t quite yet be announced.

Desert Theatreworks

www.dtworks.org

The theater company that calls the Arthur Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center in Palm Desert home has already kicked off its packed-with-shows fourth season: Artistic director Lance Phillips-Martinez does things a little differently, running his company’s “season” from May through April. So what’s in store for the rest of the season? The Realistic Joneses is a comedy about two small-town neighboring couples who share more than the same last name; that’s slated for Sept. 16-24. Agatha Christie’s A Murder Is Announced will be performed Nov. 4-11, followed by Christmas My Way: A Sinatra Holiday Bash Dec. 9-18. Desert Theatreworks will kick off 2017 with a dose of Neil Simon: 45 Seconds From Broadway is on the boards Jan. 27-Feb. 5. Musical The Drowsy Chaperone will take the stage March 9-19, and the season will conclude with the musical Next to Normal April 21-30.

Dezart Performs

www.dezartperforms.org

Dezart Performs shifted its focus for the company’s eighth season in 2015-2016: Gone was the annual Play Reading Series. That means that for the company’s upcoming season, for the first time, artistic director Michael Shaw will not be producing any world-premiere shows.

However, the 2016-2017 season lineup is a doozy nonetheless. Coming off of Dezart’s most successful season ever, Shaw and company will kick off at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club with Harvey Fierstein’s dramedy Casa Valentina, running Nov. 4-13. The stars of this show: Straight men who happen to enjoy dressing up as women. That will be followed on Jan. 13-22 by Clybourne Park, the 2012 Tony Award winner for Best Play and a 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner, which “takes a razor-sharp jab at race and real estate in a fictional Chicago neighborhood. The two explosive outrageous acts are set 50 years apart.” Dezart Performs’ popular one-night-only live-radio-show fundraiser, On the Air!, will return to the Camelot Theatres on March 9. Dezart Performs’ ninth season will conclude March 31-April 9 with Chapatti, an “unlikely love story” between two animal-lovers by Irish playwright Christian O’Reilly.

Palm Canyon Theatre

www.palmcanyontheatre.org

The granddaddy of local theater companies usually offers an ambitious mix of one-week productions and longer-running fare, and that will again be the way things are done during the 2016-2017 season. It all starts with farce Noises Off, running Sept. 15-18. There’s trouble, right here in River City, when the classic The Music Man hits the stage Sept. 30-Oct. 9. Changing things up is Jekyll and Hyde, on the slate from Oct. 21-31. Palm Springs Pride always brings the fabulous Bella da Ball’s Broadway in Drag! pageant; this year, mark your calendars for Nov. 4. Del Shores is huge in the Coachella Valley this year; get in the mood for Southern Baptist Sissies happening later at Desert Rose with Sordid Lives, running at Palm Canyon Nov. 11-20. Based on the famous movie, Meet Me in St. Louis runs Dec. 2-18, followed by Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Jan. 20-Feb. 5. Head to Argentina—figuratively, of course—for Evita Feb. 17-March 5; that will be followed You Can’t Take It With You, running March 16-19. Sweet Charity brings Neil Simon’s words to the stage March 31-April 16; Ira Levin’s Deathtrap follows April 27-30. Get down with Rock of Ages May 12-21, before Palm Canyon concludes the season with its summer show, In the Heights, running July 7-16.

Theatre 29

www.theatre29.org

Community-theater company Theatre 29 flies under the radar—even though the company often turns out excellent productions up in the High Desert, which anyone can see for a low, low price: General admission tickets are usually just $15. The company produces “seasons” based on the calendar year, and has thus far only announced shows for the remainder of 2016. The Summer Youth Theatre gets the spotlight in Aladdin Jr., running Aug. 5-7. The musical The Secret Garden will take the stage Aug. 26-Sept. 24; that will be followed by Theatre 29’s annual “Halloween Haunt,” Resurgence, taking place Oct. 14-31. Perhaps this show will win a major award: A Christmas Story will be performed for your enjoyment Nov. 18-Dec. 17.

Published in Theater and Dance

A number of plays have moved me while I’ve been doing theater reviews in the Coachella Valley—but none have pierced my heart and shaken me to the core the way Dezart Performs’ The Outgoing Tide did.

That’s due, in large part, to its subject matter: Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a hideous, devastating illness—one which took my mother’s life nearly five years ago. She spent her final years in an assisted-living facility on the East Coast, so I was spared the daily trauma of seeing my mother wither into a mere shadow of who she once was. That pain fell to my dear, devoted father, who drove to the facility and fed her lunch every day for years. When I did visit, it was deeply painful to observe this once-vibrant, articulate woman rendered nearly speechless following two strokes and the dementia. Nothing scared her more … the thought of ending life in an institution, incapacitated and in a wheelchair, feeling helpless and alone.

It’s something we all fear. Many of us studiously avoid talking about the possibility that it could happen to us. But talk about it, we must.

Written by Bruce Graham, The Outgoing Tide tackles this tough subject matter head-on. The play centers around Gunner (Michael Fairman), who is battling the scourge of Alzheimer’s; his wife of 50 years, Peg (Judith Chapman); and their son, Jack (Scott Smith). Gunner is aware that his disease is rapidly progressing, which makes him grumpy and fearful. The situation is often humiliating, as when, after a tirade over a broken television, Peg points out that Gunner is trying to watch Cops on the microwave.

Things are really going downhill: Peg has begun securing the gates at night so her husband can’t wander, and he almost burned up his newspapers after placing them on the stove. Peg is considering an assisted-living facility where both she and Gunner can take up residence; they can be together, and she can still care for him as long as possible.

Both Peg and Jack (visiting at his father’s request) think it’s a good idea—but Gunner won’t hear of it. After touring the place and noting the condition of some of the current residents, Gunner quips, “It’s like a roach motel. You check in, but you don’t check out.” Gunner adamantly refuses to consider selling his house and moving to such a place, even though he admits to Jack that his condition is worsening: “I feel like it’s starting to show.”

Instead, Gunner has an alternative plan—one that would end his suffering and set up his family financially. It’s radical and controversial, and Peg is totally against it. Jack (currently going through a divorce) is often stuck in between his two strong-willed parents, and doesn’t know what to do. When Jack asks Peg if she really wants to spend the rest of her life taking care of her husband, she responds: “What else am I good at?”

Though the play’s theme is gut-wrenching, there’s plenty of humor as well. Peg dismisses the possibility of a suicide pact with Gunner: “He’d probably shoot me and then forget to shoot himself!”

The acting is absolutely superb across the board. As Gunner, Michael Fairman is flawless. We feel every bit of the fear, anger and frustration his deteriorating mental condition triggers. Though he’s made some mistakes as a father, he’s funny, charismatic and lovable, yet ultimately tragic. His Gunner makes us wonder about our fathers, grandfathers or uncles…what would they do in this situation? Could we support their choice, even if it meant we’d lose them?

The amazing Judith Chapman does not disappoint. As the long-suffering Peg, she is the glue that keeps the family together. She’s strong and level-headed, and seems to be able to keep it all together despite the gradual loss of her husband. But Chapman lets us see the heartbreak just beneath the surface. Does she love her husband enough to let him do what’s right for him … or will her fear of being alone stand in the way? There is not one false note in her performance.

Scott Smith is terrific as the returning son who loves his parents, but feels he’s in a no-win situation. Beyond the drama of Gunner’s advancing Alzheimer’s disease, Jack’s visit home reveals some long-held family secrets.

Once again, artistic director Michael Shaw proves his mettle as a director. He moves his cast members around ably on Thomas L. Valach’s outstanding set, and draws out award-worthy performances from each of them. Clark Duggar’s sound was spot-on, as was Phil Murphy’s lighting (after a couple of brief glitches early in the play).

I have seen a number of very good plays from Dezart Performs, but The Outgoing Tide is in a league of its own. The opening-night audience gave the show a well-deserved standing ovation. The play forces us to think about end-of-life issues and personal choice. Most of us, at one point or another, will be touched by the tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease. A parent, a spouse, a friend or even we ourselves will experience the mind slowly slipping away. What would you do?

The Outgoing Tide is the most profound theater experience I have had in quite a long time.

The Outgoing Tide, a production of Dezart Performs, is performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2:30 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, May 8, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $24 to $28, and the show is just more than two hours, with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets or more information, 760-322-1079, or visit www.dezartperforms.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

I’m now in my third season as one of the Independent’s theater reviewers. I have seen many excellent productions here in the valley, and some … well … that were not so good. But I don’t know if I have ever been as emotionally affected by a play as I was by Dezart Performs’ world premiere of Suicide Dogs.

Jess Honovich’s play, which won the theater’s 2015 Play Reading Festival, chronicles how one family deals with the aftermath of a suicide of a man named Barry. Chief among the loose ends which must be tied up is what to do with Barry’s ailing dog, Driver.

Barry (Michael Shaw, who also directs), who was gay, was a successful golf pro—hence the dog’s name. In flashbacks, we learn that in his youth, Barry was insecure and a bit melancholy; he also had a somewhat difficult relationship with his mother. Perhaps the thing that brings him the greatest pleasure in lifeother than golfis the deep bond he has with his dog, which he adopted from a shelter.

As the play opens, Barry’s sister Amelia (Yo Younger); her husband, Dave (Rob Hubler); and their daughter, Frankie (Rachel Silverman) arrive at Barry’s home to prepare for his funeral. Soon after, Barry’s pushy neighbor, Podgy (Stan Jenson), drops in; not long after, Barry’s other sister, Dori (a very well-cast Denise Strand), unexpectedly shows up.

Shaken that her only brother has taken his own life with a bullet, Amelia valiantly tries to organize the funeral service while dealing with the media throng desperate for more details on the tragedy. Then there’s Driver, who is howling nonstop and puking all over the neighbor’s yard.

The always-stellar Yo Younger does not disappoint as Amelia. We feel her shock and grief at the loss of her brother. “Sometimes I feel like Barry’s playing some kind of joke on us—like he’s really in the hall closet or watching us on some computer somewhere,” she notes. She’s the anchor who holds the hold family—and the play—together.

Some of the strongest scenes are those featuring Amelia and the uptight, overly religious Dori. Dori, who has spent the last three years in rabbinical school, feels suicide is a sin, and announces that she will not be attending the funeral. Stunned, Amelia tries to understand Dori’s mindset while throwing a few barbs her way: “Everything you say sounds like it’s written on a pillow somewhere.”

Though it focuses on suicide, the play is billed as a “dramedy,” and it does have some very funny moments. Much of the humor is provided by Ron Huber, who is quite entertaining as Amelia’s harried husband, Dave.

Stan Jenson’s Podgy also gets a number of laughs. He’s nearly perfect as the nosy guy next door who good-naturedly insinuates himself into the drama a bit too often. He and Barry were clearly close friends—at the very least.

Rachel Silverman is a real find as Frankie, a precocious 16-year-old who swears a blue streak and often disrespects her parents. In an exchange with her self-centered Aunt Dori, Frankie boldly blurts out: “So … what’s wrong with you?” It’s a question everybody else in the family must also be thinking.

Doing double-duty, Michael Shaw succeeds admirably. He appears often in flashback as the likable but troubled Barry. We want to call out to him: “Things will look better tomorrow, Barry. Don’t do anything rash!” As the director, Shaw brings out strong performances from his cast.

Thomas L. Valach’s set, the lights (Phil Murphy) and sound (Clark Dugger) are all top-notch. Stage manager Blanche Mickelson also deserves a mention.

Suicide Dogs hit close to home. I’m in the midst of packing up the house of my ex-husband—a retired golf pro—who recently passed away. My partner and I had to put down a beloved, aging dog not long ago, and depression and suicide have touched me personally.

I’m certainly not the only person who will be moved: Everyone will find something to relate to in this play, which will have you laughing through your tears. It just may make you pick up the phone and call that family member you haven’t spoken to in years. It will certainly remind you that, as Podgy says: “Happiness is fleeting. Hang on to what you’ve got.”

Dezart Performs’ Suicide Dogs is being performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Jan. 31, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $28 for evening shows, and $24 for matinees. The running time is just less than 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit www.dezartperforms.org.

Published in Literature

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