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Annenberg Theater

Bobbie Eakes: Turn the Page, featuring the singer and Emmy-nominated soap-opera actress, takes place at 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 8. Tommy Tune: Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales, starring the legendary performer, takes place at 6 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 16; $295 show and dinner; $95 show only. $35 to $55. At the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org/annenberg-theater.

Avenue Q—from the Palm Canyon Theatre

The lovably crass puppet/human musical that brought the world the song “The Internet Is for Porn” takes over the Palm Canyon Theatre. 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Nov. 8, through Sunday, Nov. 17. $32. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Broadway in Drag

The lovely and ubiquitous Bella da Ball hosts the third annual drag pageant in which female impersonators vie for the crown; it’s an official Palm Springs Pride event. 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 1. $50 VIP; $35 general. At the Palm Canyon Theatre, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

A Christmas Carol—from Theatre 29

The Charles Dickens holiday classic has a month-long run at this Twentynine Palms theater mainstay. 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, Nov. 15, through Saturday, Dec. 14; Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., Nov. 24 and Dec. 8. $12; $10 seniors and military; $8 students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

CV Rep Luminary Luncheon: Tommy Tune

The legendary dancer, choreographer, director and Arrested Development guest star joins the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre for the “Luminary Luncheon” series. Noon, Thursday, Nov. 14. $35. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Exquisite Potential—from Dezart Performs

In 1979, Alan Zuckerman decides his son is special. Very special. In fact, Zuckerman announces his son is the Messiah. Of course, skepticism abounds. 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, from Friday, Nov. 22, through Sunday, Dec. 1. $22; $18 students, seniors and military. At the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-322-0179; www.dezartperforms.com.

Indian Wells Theater/CSUSB Palm Desert Tribute Concerts

Liza Minnelli and Marilyn Monroe are joined by comedian Pete Barbutti at 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 2; Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton navigate the islands in the stream at 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 16. $40 for first three rows; $35 for the remainder of the house. At the Indian Wells Theater at CSUSB Palm Desert, 37500 Cook St. 760-341-6909; pdc.csusb.edu/eventstheater.html.

Irreversible—from Script2Stage2Screen

Set in Los Alamos, N.M., this play focuses on the Manhattan Project and the tense days leading up to testing of the atomic bomb. 7:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 8, and Saturday, Nov. 9. $10. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, 72425 Via Vail, Rancho Mirage. 760-702-0062; www.script2stage2screen.com.

Lush!

This two-act staged reading, written by the Independent’s own Valerie-Jean Hume, tells the story of Marty Mann, the first woman to become involved with Alcoholics Anonymous. 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 10. $10. At the Miracle Springs Resort and Spa, 10625 Palm Drive, Desert Hot Springs. 760-251-6000; ask for Stanley at the front desk.

Master Class—from Coachella Valley Repertory

Toward the end of her career, opera star Maria Callas taught master classes at Lincoln Center. In this play, by Terrence McNally, the audience gets to watch her in action with her students, as she reflects on her life and career. 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 10. $40. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Million Dollar Quartet

This Tony Award-winning show is inspired by the famed recording session in which Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins came together for one special evening. 8 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, Nov. 26, 27 and 29; 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 30; 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 1. $35 to $95. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told—from the Desert Rose Playhouse

The Old Testament is re-imagined from a gay/lesbian point of view. In other words, instead of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden is home to Adam and Steve, as well as Jane and Mabel. When banished from the garden, they decide to invent civilization—starting with brunch, of course. 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Nov. 15, through Sunday, Dec. 22. $25 to $28. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org

The Mousetrap—from Desert Theatreworks

Agatha Christie’s well-known whodunit features chills and laughs as the harried detective tries to solve the mystery before another of the lodgers at Monkswell Manor winds up dead. 7 p.m., Friday; 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Nov. 1, through Sunday, Nov. 10. $23 to $25. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org

Other Desert Cities—from the Palm Canyon Theatre

The award-winning Broadway drama returns to the place where it originated. The Wyeth family struggles when the daughter, Brooke, announces she’s going to publish a memoir that includes a retelling of a family tragedy. 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 22, and Saturday, Nov. 23; 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 24. $25 adults; $10 students with ID. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays

Keith Coleman, in association with Palm Springs Pride, presents an encore performance of a series of short plays, conceived by Brian Shnipper and written by Emmy-, Tony- and Pulitzer-winning authors. 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 1, and Saturday. Nov. 2. $29 and $39. At the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.annenbergtheater.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

The Coachella Valley has always had a love affair with the performing arts, reflected in street names like Sinatra, Shore, and Hope.

Admit it: We’re star struck!

With the new Performing Arts Center at Rancho Mirage High School, and the emphasis by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership on developing a thriving local arts community as an economic driver, the goal is to attract and keep talented people here.

We have neighbors whose names you might not know, but they’ve been blessed with outstanding training, experience and vision.

Daniela Ryan, 47, of Palm Desert, is one such example. Married, with two children, 9 and 11, she recently stepped back from her leadership position at Dezart Performs, the company she started seven years ago, to focus on raising her children.

“I actually put an ad on Craigslist three years after coming to the Coachella Valley when my husband got a job here, because I was frustrated trying to find something locally where I could act or direct,” she says.

“Dezart (One) Gallery, in Palm Springs, was the one response I got. They wanted to develop a theater in the Backstreet Arts District, so I agreed to try to write something I could perform. After three years of doing nothing but nursing and napping babies, the next year, I did my show and met (artistic director) Michael Shaw, and Dezart Performs was born.

“The response has been terrific, and I’m hoping to work with them again, and with other local theater companies, both acting and directing.”

Daniela began in the biz by attending children’s theater auditions at age 7, along with her sister and friends. “I just got thrown into it. I got the part of Peter (in a play version of “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater”) because I was the only one with short hair! But even when I would forget my lines, the audience never let me go.

“Until I had kids, I had always either been in a show or studying (theater at the University of California at Berkeley). I wanted to hone my craft even if I couldn’t make a living at it. I waitressed, bartended, and the worst job I ever had was in a shoe store. I was 16 and worked part-time as the ‘box boy.’ Size 10 men’s shoes are heavy, and getting them on the top shelf was a challenge. After three weeks, I was fired, after being told I couldn’t do the job because I was a ‘girl.’”

Daniela has also taught acting, and one of her basic tenets is: “If you’re looking for the exit, you’ll find it; if you’re driven to act, you should just do it.”

If she could do anything she wanted, Daniela would direct. “You have to be intelligent, thoughtful and ambitious to be a good director. The director can change the course of a whole play. The actor is given the vehicle; it’s more myopic. The director can shape the entire product.”

While Daniela is proud to have helped make Dezart into a success, she is realistic: “The local media is just beginning to recognize local talent. This community deserves a thoughtful, serious theater company.”

When it comes to training in the performing arts, Sky Valley resident Wendy Girard, a life member of the famed Actor’s Studio inducted at age 18, has a powerhouse background as actor, director, producer, and teacher, lauded by stars like Al Pacino and Martin Landau.

“I didn’t plan to be an actor. I was a big fan of Elia Kazan, and that was what I wanted to do when I grew up—to direct. But in those days, women weren’t directors.

“I read in the D.C. paper that auditions were being held for T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. I thought if I snuck into the back row and watched, I could learn what a director does.

“When the auditions were over, the director said I should come up and audition. I was cast on the spot, at 15. I figured acting would help me understand what a director does from the inside out. After that, I just kept getting cast.”

Wendy met her former husband, John Strasberg, when he was guest actor at the Arena Stage in D.C. “We moved in with each other same day.” At 18, she moved with him to New York, living with his father, Lee Strasberg. “We stayed in Johnny’s old room, where Marilyn Monroe had also stayed!

“I had never heard of Actors Studio or ‘The Method’ style of acting. I didn’t know that one of the ‘rules’ was that nobody talked to Lee unless he initiated the conversation. I just walked up to him one day and started talking about improv—he was apoplectic. But he became like a father to me.”

She studied with Strasberg for 13 years and the renowned Stella Adler for several more.

Wendy started producing at 19, an off-off-Broadway production, but “I had gotten caught up in acting to make a living, so it was a few years before I directed anything.”

Among other productions, Wendy worked on Spaceship Earth: Our Global Environment (which won two Emmys) and helped create an Academy Award-nominated project produced by Sting, Burning Down Tomorrow. She conducts professional acting/presentation classes in the Coachella Valley.

Wendy came to Sky Valley (north of Palm Desert and east of Desert Hot Springs) during her mother’s final illness and to recover from a serious accident, and now divides her time between the valley and L.A.

“I’m going back to acting, but I still prefer directing whenever I can. I have a stack of several film scripts I’d like to direct. One even takes place in the Coachella Valley.”

As for women now directing films, Wendy says, “When Kathryn Bigelow won the Academy Award in 2010 for ‘a guy film’ (The Hurt Locker), that really opened the door. It just takes persistence.”

Wendy quit high school, much to the consternation of her college-educated parents. “School was boring for me.”

Yet her advice to young people interested in performing arts as a career contradicts her own life experience: “Everyone should finish school and go to college. If you want to have a long career in this business, you need a broad education and should be able to talk on any subject under the sun for at least 20 minutes. I’m still working on biology.

“If you look at actors who are successful, they are very smart, have an insatiable curiosity, and they love learning.”

Wise words from a neighbor.

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Is there anything more exciting than the prospect of an upcoming theater season? The offerings from the valley’s varied companies always provide a huge variety—and the 2013-2014 season is no exception. I can’t wait!

Below, you’ll find comments from the theater companies that had announced their schedules and shared their information with us as of our press deadline; we will add more at CVIndependent.com as other companies report back to us.

Don’t miss my reviews of many of these plays, both online and in the Independent’s monthly edition, launching in October!

Desert Rose Playhouse

HOUSE OF THE RISING SON, by Tom Jacobsen: Sept. 27-Oct. 27

THE MOST FABULOUS STORY EVER TOLD, by Paul Rudnick: Nov. 15-Dec. 22

NITE CLUB CONFIDENTIAL, by Dennis Deal: Jan. 10-Feb. 16

An untitled new play, by Dan Clancy: March 21-April 20

THE HAUNTED HOST, by Robert Patrick: May 2-June 1

Jim Strait and partner Paul Taylor report that the season for their LGBT playhouse begins with a Southern gothic, Los Angeles-New Orleans show; think “Anne Rice meets Tennessee Williams.” House of the Rising Son features ghosts, graves, special effects, and a post-Katrina/Rita all-male dynasty. Eek!

The Most Fabulous Story is a re-writing of the Old Testament. “It starts in Eden. Adam looks over the fence, and it all goes to hell in a handcart! They invent civilization, wind up in Noah’s Ark (where the bartender is a rhinoceros, and there is an amorous pig), get enslaved by a fabulous pharaoh, and wind up at the Nativity. The second act is in contemporary New York.”

Nite Club Confidential is “a film-noir musical, a cross between Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve. Stars on the rise and a diva on the rocks! Very stylistic, with American songbook music plus new original music. … It takes place in the Eisenhower years.”

The Haunted Host was one of the very first gay plays in New York, and is now celebrating its 50th anniversary. Strait acted in a performance in San Diego in 1983, and it was reportedly the first show that Harvey Fierstein ever did.

In addition, Desert Rose will feature a special attraction in March: Dorothy Kirk, a 65-year-old monologist. Strait muses, “I love a storyteller. We don’t get a lot of lesbian participation, so this will change that. It is charming!”

Tickets go on sale in August; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Coachella Valley Repertory

MASTER CLASS, by Terrence McNally: Oct. 23-Nov. 10

THE STORY OF MY LIFE, by Brian Hill and Neil Bartram: Dec. 4-22

A PERFECT GANESH, by Terrence McNally: Jan. 22-Feb. 9

FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE, by Terrence McNally: March 19-April 6

Louise Ross, the theater’s PR lady, is “really excited” about this season’s theme.

“McNally is one of America’s greatest playwrights, and we’re doing a collection of his work,” she says.

The 84-seat theater, raked for visibility, is the home of Ron Celona’s brainchild. The first Wednesday and Thursday of each show are considered preview nights (with tickets $30 instead of the usual $40); that first Thursday is also a “talkback,” featuring an audience Q&A.

“McNally has a way of being thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time. He brings controversial subjects into life situations, and makes you want to talk about what you’ve seen afterward,” says Ross.

I saw Master Class, about a celeb teaching opera, years ago in L.A., and it was stunning, with everything depending on the role of Maria Callas. Frankie became a movie, marvelous with Pacino and Pfeiffer. Ross told me about a stage version with Stanley Tucci and Frances Sternhagen—and why this show has an audience advisory due to language and brief nudity, a first for CV Rep.

Ganesh is a search for The Exotic by two white ladies in India. “It starts with an ordinary situation and becomes this whole other world,” says Ross, “about your bucket list.”

More info at www.cvrep.org.

Dezart Performs

EXQUISITE POTENTIAL, by Stephen Kaplan: Nov. 22-Dec. 1

INVASION OF PRIVACY, by Larry Parr: Jan. 31-Feb. 9

SIXTH ANNUAL PLAYREADING SERIES, April 11-19

Artistic director Michael Shaw co-founded this 5-year-old group, known for its play-reading series on which the audience votes, with the winner produced the following year. Last season brought a tie—so both plays are being produced this coming season.

Exquisite playwright Stephen Kaplan came to the reading (and was very pleased), and intends to be here again for the production. “It’s brilliant, clever, one of the most interesting story lines ever,” enthuses Shaw. The comedy-drama deals with a man who believes his 3-year-old son is the Messiah—to the surprise of his rabbi and his pregnant wife.

The second play resonates with Shaw, who once lived in Central Florida, where it is set. Invasion is about a relationship that becomes a libel suit—one that really went to the Supreme Court in the 1940s. Shaw knows the life depicted in the play well. “I had alligator stew often, and my dad used to catch wild turkeys and snapping turtles for dinner. I want to hang moss for this show!”

Considering everything happening news, these topics are as timely as ever, Shaw says.

“Tickets will be on sale in July!” promises Shaw, who keeps the ticket prices to a sensible $18-$22; www.dezartperforms.com.

Desert Theatreworks

THE MOUSETRAP, by Agatha Christie: Nov. 1-10

MARRIED ALIVE, by Sean Grennan and Leah Okimoto: Dec. 6-15

BLAZING GUNS AT ROARING GULCH: Jan. 24-Feb. 2

THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL: March 14-23

The Joslyn Center’s Arthur Newman Theatre in Palm Desert is now home to the Desert Theatreworks, with Lance Phillips-Martinez at the helm. He tells me that Mousetrap is the longest-running play in the world—and it already had that distinction when I saw it back in London in 1966! It’s a whodunit murder-mystery, of course.

Married is a new musical which he describes as “zany,” with newlyweds and “oldyweds” looking at marriage. Blazing is an old-fashioned “mellerdrammer” in the Wild West, with songs, skits and a very hissable villain.

Trailer is a musical that is “the theatrical equivalent of a bag of Doritos,” says Phillips-Martinez, “at Armadillo Acres in Florida—a fun, fun, fun time!”

It’ll be exciting to watch this new company as it enters the desert’s theatrical community; www.dtworks.org.

Palm Canyon Theatre

THE SOUND OF MUSIC: Oct. 4-13

AVENUE Q: Nov. 8-17

SHREK: Dec. 6-22

LES MISERABLES: Jan. 24-Feb. 9

9 TO 5: Feb. 28-March 9

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR: April 4-20

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE: May 2-11

SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL: July 11-20

This coming season, the downtown Palm Springs mainstay is focusing on big Broadway shows—and they’re throwing in a “classic series” of one-weekend shows as well. We’d tell you more, but nobody from the theater got back to us before our press deadline; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Watch CVIndependent.com frequently for updates, reviews and theater news. Enjoy!

Published in Theater and Dance

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