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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Coachella and Stagecoach dominate the music coverage in April—but there are a whole lot of great events going on before, during and after the festivals throughout the Coachella Valley.

The McCallum Theatre will soon enter its summer hibernation, but not before a fantastic April schedule. At 8 p.m., Thursday, April 4, find out who’s the boss when Tony Danza brings in his one-man variety show. He’ll be telling stories about his life and playing music with the Desert Symphony. Tickets are $75 to $250. At 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 10, popular Christian-contemporary music artist Stephen Curtis Chapman comes to the McCallum. He’s won five Grammy Awards and sold more than 10 million albums. Tickets are $39 to $88. At 7 p.m., Saturday, April 27, the Coachella Valley Symphony will be holding its 26th Anniversary Gala, joined by Under the Streetlamp, a fun music group that performs rhythm and blues, rock ’n’ roll and doo-wop from the 1950s to 1970s. Tickets are $45 to $85. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has an April event you won’t want to miss … especially if you’ve watched Netflix or Hulu recently. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 6, Ashanti and Ja Rule will be performing. Ja Rule may currently be best-known for his recent involvement with the disastrous Fyre Festival. He’s also known for a few hits in the early 2000s. Tickets are $39 to $69. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage has several fun events from which to choose in April. At 8 p.m., Friday, April 5, truTV star and magician Michael Carbonaro will be performing. Carbonaro is also known for his appearances on 30 Rock, Happily Divorced and Grey’s Anatomy, on top of his dazzling magic act. Tickets are $25 to $160. At 8 p.m., Friday, April 26, Comedy Central’s Daniel Tosh will take the stage. You remember him … he’s guy who has all the videos from YouTube showing people doing stupid and ridiculous stuff—supplemented by his colorful and hilarious commentary. Tickets are $80 to $100. Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Spotlight 29 Casino has a couple of intriguing shows. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 13, Paquita La Del Barrio (upper right) will be performing. Known as “Franny from the Neighborhood,” this beloved performer is well-known in the United States and Mexico for her songs that promote strength and solidarity while challenging sexist machismo. Tickets are $35 to $45. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 27, the “comedian of a thousand faces,” Jo Jo Jorge Falcon, will bring the funny. Falcon is known for his twisted sense of humor—and for sometimes wearing a condom-tip cap. Tickets are $36 to $81. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Morongo Casino Resort and Spa has a full slate of impressive April offerings. At 9 p.m., Friday, April 5, ’60s pop icons Chubby Checker and Frankie Avalon will be performing on a double bill. Frankie Avalon is best-known for his movie performances with Annette Funicello in what become known as the “beach party” genre. He’s also a singer-songwriter and has recorded seven albums. Chubby Checker is known for his hit “The Twist” (which was actually a Hank Ballard and the Midnighters cover) and the accompanying dance. Tickets are $45 to $65. At 9 p.m., Friday, April 12, comedian Cedric the Entertainer will be performing. He’s best-known for his role as Eddie in Barbershop, as well as his other acting roles, but he’s also been a popular standup comedian through the years. Tickets are $59 to $79. At 9 p.m., Friday, April 26, country artist Rodney Atkins will take the stage. He’s had six No. 1 hits on the Billboard U.S. Hot Country Songs chart since his career began in 2003. Tickets are $45 to $55. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace has a lot going on in April—and is always a popular place to be during Coachella and Stagecoach, as you never know who will show up. Here are a couple of events with tickets still available. At 9 p.m., Friday, April 19, Pale Waves will be performing. It’s a four-piece indie-pop band from the United Kingdom—and this group is fantastic. When I listened to their debut album My Mind Makes Noises, it reminded me of the best alternative pop, such as the Cocteau Twins, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Echo and the Bunnymen. Pale Waves has been selling out venues in the U.K., Europe and North America. Tickets are $16 to $20. At 8 p.m., Sunday, April 28, the legendary rockabilly/rock ’n’ roll band Reverend Horton Heat will be performing, along with the Legendary Shack Shakers. No hyperbole: These are two of the best rock bands in America, and both have recorded great music that any rockabilly, blues or rock fan can appreciate. Tickets are $25. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

The action remains hot at the Purple Room. At 6 p.m., Friday, April 12, the “King of the Song Cue Ball” Jerome Elliott will be performing. A hilarious award-winning actor, singer and director, and a friend of the Independent, he’s performed at just about all of the top cabaret venues across the country. Tickets are $25 to $30. At 6 p.m., Friday, April 26, jazz singer, songwriter and actress Ann Hampton Callaway (below) will come to the Purple Room. She’ll be singing jazz songs that were made famous in films. Tickets are $55 to $65. At 6 p.m., Saturday, April 27, actress and singer Renee Olstead will be performing. You might remember her from Still Standing and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Well, she’s also a hell of a singer, and performed at the Live 8 concert in 2005. Tickets are $35 to $40. Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-322-4422; www.purpleroompalmsprings.com.

Published in Previews

It’s about math.

Oh no! Math was my worst subject in school, and here we are confronted with Proof, a play about real mathematical geniuses—the kind you see standing in front of an entire blackboard filled with incomprehensible squiggles. The Desert Ensemble Theatre Company has brought Proof to the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club—but even if you are as bad as I am with numbers, there is nothing to fear.

Proof, written by David Auburn, won the Pulitzer and the Tony in 2001. The setting, here designed by Lauren Bright with lighting by Ashton J. Bolanos, is a modest Chicago home’s back yard. The house is inhabited by a math professor and his adult daughter, whom we meet in the first scene.

Robert (Larry Dyekman) emerges from the house to find his daughter Catherine (Kelley Moody) has fallen asleep outdoors at 1 a.m. She is dressed (by costume designer Frank Cazares) in awful moth-eaten sweat pants, bedroom slippers and an oversized cranberry cardigan. Her sulky attitude and slovenly appearance, however, can’t hide Moody’s flawless complexion and bountiful hair, and she gives us a finely tuned interpretation of her role. Dyekman, in a well-thought-out and underplayed performance that shows off his skills, is a believable father and mathematician. The two converse about their relationship, his “illness,” her inherited math aptitude and, oh yes, the fact that he is … how shall I put this … dead.

In the next scene, we meet Hal, played by a perfectly cast Sam Benson Smith; Hal is a former student of Robert’s who is now a math professor himself at age 28. He is the quintessential nerd, with all the assets of a genius—for example, he’s also a drummer in a rock band with other dweeb mathematicians by night, and he wears a red T-shirt with the symbol for pi emblazoned on the front. “I owe him,” Hal says about Robert, ferreting through the great man’s countless notebooks that were left behind, trying to discover what he was working on in his final years. The audience sees Hal only in profile for about 99 percent of the time he is onstage—an unusual choice. (See how I used numbers there?)

Fireworks explode between Hal and Catherine when she accuses him of theft, and we begin to unravel the story of her battle with higher education. (She dropped out.) There are many references to that unanswerable conundrum: How much of genius is inherited, and how much of it is affected by education and environment? And what, besides our brains, do we inherit from our parents? Their problems, too? Also: How insane do you need to be to warrant being locked up? Where does a savant’s eccentricity leave off and incomprehensibility start? What pushes brainiac people over the line into actual mental illness?

Enter Claire, Catherine’s sister now living in New York, to take charge, smoothly played by Lee Rice. Contrasts between sisters are endlessly fascinating, and director Jerome Elliott—also the company’s artistic director—has, with assistant director Sierra Barrick, made the most of the comparisons here. You will particularly like one scenario in which the two girls assume the exact same arms-folded position (always the default stance for Claire), with both staring forward like ancient Egyptian statues as they converse. Rice offers a masterful performance, with crisp gestures, keen focus, great diction, clever use of her eyes and some excellent “takes.”

Mathematicians, we are told, peak at about the age of 23, and feel it is all downhill from there. It is a closed community with plenty of jealousy and childish behavior … but they apparently really love to party, too! Each one is desperately searching for that special equation, formula or theorem that will help make their name historic. Their lives revolve around that search and discovery, and its “proof.” That, apparently, is the Holy Grail in this field—when all other mathematicians must accept and agree with your new truth. In this vein, Act 1 ends with possibly the best cliffhanger ever.

In Act 2, we are treated to a flashback from four years before—so Dad returns, bringing with him a couple of actual laughs, as opposed to the rather grim mood of Act 1. Robert is a silver fox with an expressive face and natural gestures—but Catherine dreads having to pay the same price that her father did for his gift. “The machinery,” he calls his mind. Yet how many of his issues might just be sleep deprivation, or other ancillary problems?

We wonder a lot about this very cerebral play. For example, why is the wife/mother never mentioned by Claire or Catherine or Robert—even once? Why are there so many F-bombs dropped? Although Claire is apparently a currency analyst, which would certainly require smarts, why did she not inherit the same size gift for numbers that Catherine did? What is the cost for each IQ point? Is it better to forgo the big gift and be better adjusted, more stable, in “real” life? “Mathematicians are insane,” declares one character.

There is very little action in this play; it all takes place above the neck. So the actors are given lots of difficult lines, which they all manage well. However, there are some errors being made onstage, such as shuffling feet—not a good idea on this stage’s squeaky floor boards—or pretending to drink but forgetting to also pretend to swallow, or dropping the volume at the end of a sentence.

Proof is a well-acted play—and you don’t have to be good with numbers to enjoy it.

Proof, a production of Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, March 24, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $25, and the play runs about two hours, with one intermission. For tickets or more information, call 760-565-2476, or visit www.detctheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

The script is the star.

Desert Ensemble Theatre Company has produced eight plays written by Tony Padilla during its eight seasons. And get this: English is his second language!

There are precious few authors who can achieve this kind of success, let alone in a second language. Joseph Conrad, who wrote Heart of Darkness, which later inspired the movie Apocalypse Now, spoke Polish as his cradle tongue … and frankly, I can’t think of another example off the top of my head. Padilla comes from Cuba, where at age 11, he and his family escaped during the historic exodus from Castro’s fiefdom. Today, he not only speaks flawless English, but writes as playwright-in-residence for DETC.

At the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, a venue the group is sure to outgrow soon, award-winning Padilla’s newest work is titled For a Reason. “It’s very different,” he said about the new work. “It’s not personal—I didn’t experience this. It comes from research, from becoming passionate about the subject of relationships, from reading and seeing other people in their relationships, and learning about them. That’s what moves me.”

Frankly, isn’t how we treat our fellow man the essence of our development? Look at how you act when you’re mixed in with other people—and that will show you who you really are, especially in intimate relationships. Look at how many court cases there are because of the problems! In the case of For a Reason, Padilla’s script sparkles with not just brilliant writing, but also with his tremendous insights about people and how they interact.

A glance at the printed program might make one anticipate a musical, since these actors are so well known for their singing—but no, it’s a straight-up play, despite well-known local music-biz names like Charles Herrera, Leanna Rodgers and my dear colleague, the Independent’s own Bonnie Gilgallon. Interestingly, Shawn Abramowitz directed the play (with Sierra Barrick as assistant director), and then had to step in to play a role on the stage—which he does perfectly, never missing a word. In other words, everyone in the cast boasts multiple talents.

The open stage shows us a casual and slightly messy living room/den, designed by Lauren Bright, containing a big globe and souvenirs, artwork and tchotchkes from around the world. Artistic director Jerome Elliott greets the audience and informs us that this is a world premiere! The lights, designed by Ashton J. Bolanos, come up, and we begin. Sandra (played by Rodgers, an actress with the most beautiful eyes and smile), is the live-in daughter-in-law of the aging but successful writer Pablo Luna (a cane-stumping, grey-haired, grumpy but lovable Hererra). They are interviewing for a position of companion/caretaker for him, as he suffers from an unnamed degenerative disease. Aaron Watson, cleverly played by a black-bearded Abramowitz, is the last applicant of that day.

It is revealed that Pablo is “isolating,” and we see that the patient is indeed trying to push everyone away from him. But Aaron proves to be bright and feisty, and the verbal jousting begins. Pablo is deemed “a difficult client,” but Aaron is more than a match for his wit and wisdom. The two actors swat lines at each other with complete believability, on the topics of happiness, loneliness, choices, success, mothers, artistic virtue, social masks, balance, sex, youth versus age, writer’s block, men’s animal magnetism, and movies. There is great charm in their mind games, and this is where Padilla’s script shines brightest. He manipulates the language joyfully and curiously, giving us inventive and refreshing results. The two actors have mined the script deeply, and their shades of meaning, even when trading some rude insults, are beautifully thought out.

The men eventually arrive at an impasse in their philosophical swordplay, and have to call in an adjudicator. Enter Gilgallon as Gisele. She’s a dream girl in stiletto heels, black hose on her long legs, and a clingy scarlet dress that hugs her eye-popping curves. (Kudos to costume designer Frank Cazares.) We are led to believe that she is a Lady of the Night … but watching her moves and listening to her talk, we begin to wonder. She is way too shrewd, too literate, too thoughtful. She keeps us guessing. Gilgallon’s focus in this role is beautiful to behold, and she is totally believable as this mystery woman (with the exception—forgive me—of the wig). Her warm and musical voice is shown to its best advantage in this role.

There are some smart theatrical choices made in this play, such as bringing in the champagne already poured instead of the time-wasting, not to mention dangerous, pouring in front of an audience … but we need to hear the offstage POP! of the cork to make it real.

This is an extraordinary play, and it runs smoothly. The theme of the play—relationships—posits the idea that people are brought together to affect each other’s lives with the chance that they will be better persons as a result. It is a lovely thought—even though some of us might be able to think of a few people we wish we’d done without. All these characters do experience an arc as a result of meeting each other, with Sandra’s change possibly being the most dramatic.

The play runs 60 minutes with no intermission, and says everything it has to say with such lovely conciseness that it makes you wonder why other plays have to go on for hours to achieve the same results.

Angelantonio Padilla’s words and thoughts will stay in your head. Whose lives have you met and changed … for a reason?

For a Reason, a production of Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 17, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $25. For tickets or more information, call 760-565-2476, or visit www.detctheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

April is the final month of the busy season—and it seems like some venues have saved the best for last.

April marks the final full month of events at the McCallum Theatre. At 8 p.m., Tuesday, April 3, Lucie Arnaz—actress, singer, producer and daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz—presents Stepping Out for College of the Desert: Latin Roots. The show will pay tribute to Arnaz’s Latin roots, especially the man who helped bring Latin music to America—her father. Tickets are $67 to $127. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 7, enjoy a rock show by Boz Scaggs. His soulful singing combined with his rocking guitar is always a treat—and “Lowdown” is a great song to hear live. Tickets are $100 to $250. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 14, the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra will be performing A Tribute to John Williams. Considering how many great films for which Williams has composed soundtracks, this should be a wonderful show to take in. Tickets are $87 to $137. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino is hosting two fine events in April. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 7, comedian and puppeteer Terry Fator will be performing. Fator’s wildly popular shows are always funny and entertaining. Tickets are $39 to $79. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 14, enjoy a double-bill of Latin music when Los Lobos (right) and Los Lonely Boys perform. While Los Lobos is best known for the cover of “La Bamba” for the 1987 biographical Ritchie Valens film, there are a lot of cuts the band recorded early in a 45-year career that are political and go deep into the Latin-music genre. Hopefully some of that will be played here! The group Los Lonely Boys is best remembered for hit-song “Heaven,” and the band has sold millions of albums. Tickets are $39 to $79. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has one compelling music event in April: At 8 p.m., Friday, April 6, The Doobie Brothers will be performing. The famed Northern California rock band is no stranger to the desert. The group has won four Grammy awards and has sold 48 million records. Tickets are $60 to $80. Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Spotlight 29 has an event in April comedy fans will love: At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 7, Marlon Wayans will be returning to the area. I spoke with the comedian and actor last year, and during the interview, his mother—the famous “Mrs. Wayans” referenced in Wayans brothers comedy—actually called him on his other phone. Marlon is hilarious, and he’s proven himself to be a talented actor outside of the comedy genre—see Requiem for a Dream—and has worked as a screenwriter and producer. Tickets are $25 to $45. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Morongo Casino Resort Spa doesn’t have any big music events in April, but get ready to celebrate, ladies … that’s right: At 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, April 27 and 28, Australia’s Thunder From Down Under is BACK! The all-handsome, all-hunk, all-male revue is a hit, and the shows usually sell out—so get your tickets while you still can. They cost $25. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace will probably be bonkers with surprises in April thanks to Coachella and Stagecoach—and already, there are a lot of sold-out events. Here are some great shows with tickets left as of our deadline: At 9 p.m., Thursday, April 5, bass-and-drum duo Sumo Princess will take the stage. Sumo Princess features Abby Travis (KMFDM, Eagles of Death Metal, The Bangles) and Gene Trautmann (Queens of the Stone Age, Mojave Lords, Mark Lanegan). Also on the bill is Elettrodomestico, featuring Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Gos. Tickets are $15. At 8 p.m., Friday, April 6, talented local musician Gene Evaro Jr. (pictured below; photo by Guillermo Prieto/irockphotos.net) will be performing an outdoor show. Also on the bill: His sister, Gabriella Evaro. Tickets are $15 to $20. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

The Purple Room Palm Springs has a busy month of April, per usual. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 14, Palm Springs cabaret star Jerome Elliott will be performing. Elliott will sing hits from Broadway, the world of pop music, and the Great American Songbook. Tickets are $25 to $30. At 8 p.m., Saturday, April 21, internationally known singer and pianist Lori Donato will take the stage in a show celebrating Marilyn Maye. Donato has a vocal range that allows her to master blues, jazz and other genres. Tickets are $25 to $30. At 8 p.m., Friday, April 27, Ann Hampton Callaway will perform songs from all the divas that we love—Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland and many others. Tickets are $55 to $65. Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-322-4422; www.purpleroompalmsprings.com.

Published in Previews

Remember those many old adages about walking a mile in another person’s shoes, or being a fly on the wall in someone else’s house—all sayings that basically mean you never know what goes on behind closed doors? Well, Desert Ensemble Theatre Company’s Lovesport, now playing at the Pearl McManus Theatre in the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, gives you a chance to be the fly.

An original work by DETC founder and producing artistic director Tony Padilla, Lovesport is the latest in a series of his creations as an award-winning playwright, director and producer. Basically, it’s a gayer, less-warped homage to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Here it is: A couple arrives at their San Francisco-area suburban home where they’ve lived for many years, after a ghastly dinner party. One of them has invited another couple, whom they have just met, to join them for a nightcap. Bzzz bzzz … we get to watch what happens.

It’s a play all about relationships, and about commitment. Here we have four gentlemen, all nice-looking and successful in their chosen fields, but the biggest concern of their lives revolves around their partner and how they are getting along.

Jerome Elliott, who always is working at either a play or a cabaret show, plays Josh, a mature and world-weary misogynist. He is in a longtime committed relationship with Marty, a former actor, played by Alan Berry. Their guests are Gary, a painfully young hi-tech designer working at what is hinted to be Google or someplace like it, played by Cameron Shingler; and his husband of two years, Ben, who is an older and sophisticated architect, played by J. Gazpar Ascenio.

Other than a few jokes about what to wear for Halloween drag, the four converse about the same things everyone, everywhere in a suburban living room might discuss, gay or straight: relationships, making sacrifices, making mistakes, the future, romance, doubts, what the wedding was like, a partner whose sense of humor is beginning to fade, making a decision about whether or not to have a baby. We get to watch the four interact, and we see secrets and revelations about each of them revealed … accidentally or not.

The play is listed as a comedy, but there are not a lot of chortles. Do you know the defining difference between a comedy and a tragedy? No, it’s not counted in laughs. In a comedy, the protagonist, or lead character, gets what he wants. In a tragedy, he doesn’t. So this is a (rather dark) comedy, but the script contains some beautifully memorable lines like: “My fears keep me from making stupid mistakes.” Or: “He who listens, wins.” Or: “It smells like a Rastafarian hippy hut” after two of the characters light up a joint. Padilla’s writing is most interesting. He makes each of the personalities distinctively different—not an easy task when the cast consists of four males—and each has his own very individual voice. The author really knows people. (But a few more laughs wouldn’t hurt!) This is the fortunate result of the author acting as the play’s director also—the message becomes the star of the show.

Act 1 ends with a shock. There are two acts, and the running time is about 90 minutes. The actors all have to be complimented on their lovely diction. This is a difficult room to play, because its textures are so soft—carpets, curtains—and the sound gets soaked up. But despite excellent diction, the occasional last words of a sentence got lost through dropped volume and pitch. Watch that projection please, boys!

As far as the acting goes, there was a sense of stiffness that never went away. I was hoping that it was just initial first-night nerves, but the stiffness didn’t vanish as the play progressed, alas. We found the characters interesting, intellectually speaking—but they never moved us emotionally.

The other little problem is some overly busy and unmotivated blocking … one got the feeling that the characters had been told to move here or there, rather than being impelled by their emotions to move themselves. This is not a large deal, but it was enough to cause the occasional wrinkled brow. Director Padilla always keeps his stage balanced, but at the risk of chess-boarding the characters a little much.

The basic problem was believability—we just are not convinced that the actors are really that person going through those feelings, or that they are affected by their drinking wine or smoking pot … which is tricky to portray, admittedly, but the audience needs to see a change and not just hear about it. When they indulge in some gossip about a woman at the dinner party, the words are there, but the delivery falls a little flat—we neither savor it nor are taken aback by the bitchiness, because the characters don’t fully reveal how they feel. Acting is, alas, all about feelings, not just saying the words.

Don’t get me wrong: The play will definitely hold your attention, even if it’s partly the universal schadenfreude that sees someone else having problems while you sit there comfortably, relieved that it isn’t your life that’s being exposed for all to see.

What we are looking at here is something that seems to take most of a lifetime for people to learn: You can put two perfectly nice people together, but the bottom line is that it isn’t guaranteed to work, because it’s the relationship itself that is wrong. A relationship has its own life, separate from the individuals in it, and a relationship can be as vulnerable as the people involved in it. It’s endlessly challenging trying to guess who in life will make it and who won’t—just like in this play. Secrets and scars are not always readily apparent.

As one character in Lovesport wisely asserts, “Relationships are not for sissies.”

Lovesport, a performance by Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, at the Pearl McManus Theatre in the Palm Springs Woman's Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $20. For tickets or more information, visit www.detctheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Imagine you are walking down the street, and suddenly you see … YOU, yourself, coming toward you. Your hair, face, hands, height and weight. It’s not a trick or illusion. It’s you.

What do you do?

A Number, presented by the Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, has opened at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club. It’s a one-act, five-scene, two-man, 55 minute play, written by Caryl Churchill and produced by Tony Padilla. Which fact is most surprising: A female playwright created a work for two men? The provocative topic of the show? Or the fact that you’re back out on the street before 8 p.m., when some other theaters’ curtains are just going up?

The actors, Shawn Abramowitz and James E. Anderson III, work on a bare stage with only two tan leather chairs as the set. The color palette is limited to blues and some earth tones. Director Jerome Elliott has made the most of the space, with clever blocking that keeps the action natural-looking and emotion-motivated. The play is a talky one, with lines that interrupt each other and “telescope,” bedazzling us with speed and brevity. Yet thanks to the actors’ good diction, we rarely miss a word. (Learning these lines had to be a labor of love, for sure.) Everything looks simple—but your earth is about to be shaken.

For the audience: Don’t worry if you are confounded. The playwright delights in using half-sentences and incomplete thoughts. Interesting writing … very much like the way people really do talk. The actors accordingly have adopted a natural and realistic acting style.

We open with an ongoing conversation between two gentlemen: One younger, dark-haired, in jeans; the other silver-haired and silver-bearded, wearing glasses and a cardigan. We see them slouch, swipe at the nose (the “allergy salute,” so common in our desert), sulk, snark, get in each other’s faces—in other words, we are the fly on the wall watching the real-feel action as we struggle to understand the meaning of their conversation.

Finally, it becomes clear, and I will reveal it to you so you don’t have the duhhs quite as long as we did (and seeing as this information is included on the ticket-purchase website, it’s not a spoiler): The conversation is about cloning. Gasp! This play premiered in Britain in 2002, back when Dolly, the cloned sheep, was still alive. But A Number is about human cloning. Even creepier! In the play, some people are referred to as “The Others,” and as the conversation progresses, we find out who “they” are. Paranoia abounds: Why?

We eventually face another psychological conundrum: the “nature versus nurture” argument. Which is more important: what you inherit before birth, or the way you are raised? What determines how we turn out? The characters, whom we learn are father and son, walk us through all the stuff moaned about on a psychiatrist’s couch: the bitterness from unfair treatment, the differing memories of remembered cruelties, the new facts that alter one’s history. So who gets the blame for the flawed person that we all turn out to be? Genes, or environment?

The son has had the experience of seeing “himself” on the street, and confronts his father. The father, it is revealed, is not without problems of his own: He lies about the boy’s mother; he drinks too much; he plots lawsuit revenge. So how does his son react to events or information: the same as dad, or differently? Now it gets really interesting, because in the next scene, we get to meet the other son, physically identical to the first—and we see his personality interacting with the same father. What created those differences?

We won’t reveal any more, so that you can be surprised by what happens … and you will be surprised. If you enjoy intimate theater, this is an excellent example of it. The Palm Springs Woman’s Club is an appropriate size for such a show (now if only we could do something about those creaky floorboards onstage), as presenting such a work in a huge arena would be unthinkable: The closeness of the audience to the actors is mandatory for our involvement in, and concentration on, the play.

The actors do a wonderful job of luring us into their characters’ lives, with all of the complexity, denial and peculiarity. The play throws us into a world where we probably will never go, yet forces us to think about it: What if you found out you had been cloned, without your knowledge? How would that feel? What would you do? See, this is what theater can do: permanently expand our consciousness in a way that nothing else can.

Kudos to Jerome Elliott for his lean-and-clean style of directing, and to Abramowitz and Anderson for their memory of the lines and their shrewd interpretation of this script. Thanks also to Padilla for finding this thought-provoking play and bringing it to our valley.

The only possible change I could suggest involves wardrobe: The audience might understand more easily that Son No. 2 in Scene No. 2 is actually another person if he wore a jacket with a contrasting color. Here, both sons wore blue—obviously to make a statement about how they are The Same In So Many Ways—but although the actor even changed shoes, it wasn’t readily apparent that this wasn’t just another scene with the same actor at another time, dressed differently. This point is successfully addressed in Scene No. 5, which I’m really trying to not give away.

A Number is a very cerebral experience, but then, thought always precedes action, so you must see this show to clarify your thoughts about it. It’s a must-see play about, maybe, YOU.

So … Imagine you are walking down the street, and … ?

A Number, a production of the Desert Ensemble Theatre, is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 21, at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $20. The show is 55 minutes long, with no intermission. For tickets or more information, call 760-565-2476, or visit www.detctheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

As a child, my older sister was scared to death of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. My sister would flee the room in terror when the old green hag appeared onscreen. Sis is not alone: The witch, and her alter ego, the bicycle-riding, dog-hating Almira Gulch, have been feared and reviled by scores of little ones for years.

But what if Miss Gulch had a softer, more vulnerable side? The Desert Ensemble Theatre Company explores that possibility in its latest production, Miss Gulch Returns, a one-man show featuring local cabaret performer Jerome Elliott in a delightful performance.

The show, written by New York singer/pianist Fred Barton, became a hit 20 years ago, and holds up well. The premise is that Miss Gulch feels disrespected after her big musical number was cut from The Wizard of Oz movie, so she hits the cabaret circuit in search of showbiz success—and love.

The show opens with Elliott, looking quite dapper in a black tux, detailing in the first musical number how he met Miss Gulch in a bar (“You’re The Woman I’d Wanna Be”). Moments later, he morphs into Miss Gulch herself, losing the tux and appearing in a long black dress and a black hat adorned with a large bow. (Elliott pulls off drag quite well.)

He warns us that if we’re not careful, “Miss Gulch is what every one of us is going to become”—old, bitter and frustrated (“I’m a Bitch”).

There are lots of laughs and plenty of suggestive lyrics (“Pour Me a Man”) as Miss Gulch struggles valiantly to find true love, singing torch songs for a living and hitting the bottle a bit too much. One of the highlights of the evening is one of the few ballads, the poignant “Everyone Worth Taking’s Been Taken.”

Elliott is a solid, seasoned performer with a strong voice. He seems right at home onstage and is reminiscent of an old song-and-dance man like Donald O’Connor. He possesses great comic timing and can really throw out a zinger, as he does to a lover who’s just dumped him: “One look at you, and I knew you were one of those guys who thinks monogamy is a game put out by Parker Brothers.” Later, he compares lovers to dentures: “You don’t want them in your mouth all night, but you do want them within arm’s reach first thing in the morning.”

This material isn’t earthshaking—there are no big show-stopping numbers, and there are slow moments here and there—but the lyrics are clever, and there’s just the right amount of raunchiness to keep us entertained. The piano-bar set is simple and just right, and musical director Charlie Creasy provides excellent keyboard accompaniment. The production runs just about 90 minutes, which is perfect for a one-man musical show.

Desert Ensemble Theatre’s production of Miss Gulch Returns is funny, bawdy, touching and worth seeing. Kudos to director Tony Padilla, who has helped Elliott create a believable, three-dimensional character in Almira Gulch. Even my sister would like her.

Miss Gulch Returns, a production of the Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, April 16, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Running time is about 90 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $22; and $18 for students, seniors and military. For tickets or more information, call 760-565-2476, or visit www.detctheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance