CVIndependent

Tue11242020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

I received some interesting reader responses to yesterday’s news that Riverside County was being demoted from the red, “Substantial” COVID-19 tier to the purple, “Widespread” tier. Here are three of those responses, slightly edited for style:


Gyms don’t make people sick; shitty food does, though. The fact that fast-food joints and cannabis shops are considered ESSENTIAL IS LUDICROUS. California invented the entire “fitness industry” and now they’re trying to destroy it. Why has no one in a position of leadership made any statement whatsoever about staying in shape and eating healthy—the most important things you can do?! Instead, people are told to stay home, order pizza and get fat.


I understand why you’re bummed about businesses closing—we all are. But you should point out there’s one person to blame for all of this: Trump. If he had properly led from the beginning and made sure everyone was on the same page with mask-wearing (after Fauci learned its importance), I believe most businesses would be open.

Business owners are venting at our responsible governor when he’s done everything he can to slow the spread. You can use this analogy with your readers: Trump is the divorced dad who has his kids on the weekend and never says no to them—including underage alcohol parties, wild sex and “screw the neighbors.” Newsom is the mom who has to be responsible in guiding her kids to make the right choices so they won’t harm themselves and succeed in life and don’t turn out to be delinquents.

“Dad” Trump will be gone after Jan. 21 while “mom” Newsom will be around at least until the next election, faced with cleaning up after the “dad’s” mess.


You said: “To those of you who look at this information and shout, ‘Lives are more important than businesses!’ You need to realize that lives and businesses are inextricably intertwined. Business are life-long dreams, sources of income, sanity-maintaining distractions and so much more, to so many people.” THANK YOU FOR UNDERSTANDING THIS! So many of us small business owners feel unheard and left behind.


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News from the day:

• Example No. 244,851 of the importance of local journalism: The FBI raided the Borrego Community Healthcare Foundation as part of an investigation yesterday; you can read the San Diego Union-Tribune’s coverage of the raid here. The nonprofit medical provider—which has multiple locations in the Coachella Valley—started off in Borrego Springs, a small town in San Diego County south of Palm Desert and west of the Salton Sea, before expanding to become a behemoth provider in San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. So … what does this have to do with local journalism? The look into potential wrongdoing at Borrego appears to have started months ago, at the tiny Borrego Sun newspaper, which has a special page dedicated to its Borrego Community Healthcare Foundation coverage here. Props to the Borrego Sun for its work.

• An update on those shady ballot boxes put out by the California Republican Party, from the Los Angeles Times: “A Sacramento judge refused Wednesday to order the California Republican Party to disclose information about its ballot drop box program to state officials, rejecting an argument by Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra that the investigation was essential to ensuring ballots are being properly handled. The decision by Judge David Brown does not prevent Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla from returning to court over the matter but marks a significant victory for GOP officials who have insisted their ballot collection campaign is following state election law.

• President Trump sat down for an interview with 60 Minutes yesterday—and it apparently did not go well. According to CNN: “Trump walked out of the interview because he was frustrated with (Lesley) Stahl's line of questioning, one source said. Another person said the bulk of the interview was focused on coronavirus. On Wednesday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said there is a ‘high probability’ that the President will release footage of the interview before it airs Sunday, and accused Stahl of acting ‘more like an opinion journalist.’” Sigh.

The pope has come out in favor of civil unions for same-sex couples. According to The Washington Post: “Francis’s comment does nothing to alter Catholic doctrine, but it nonetheless represents a remarkable shift for a church that has fought against LGBT legal rights—with past popes calling same-sex unions inadmissible and deviant. Francis’s statement is also notable within a papacy that on the whole hasn’t been as revolutionary as progressives had hoped and conservatives had feared.

• And now we get to the portion of the Daily Digest where we say something positive about the president. Yes, really. The Washington Post ran a fascinating piece today discussing how truly, honestly close we apparently are to having a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Key quote: “‘Going from where we were in January and February—where we are going to be hit by this tsunami—to very likely having a vaccine, or more than one vaccine, that is proven safe and effective within a year, is staggeringly impressive, and would only have happened with strong and effective federal action,’ said Robert Wachter, the chair of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. Wachter has strongly criticized the administration’s response to the pandemic, arguing it has cost tens of thousands of lives. But he called the vaccine effort ‘nearly flawless’ so far—words he said he found difficult to say.”

• Our partners at CalMatters are reporting that Gov. Gavin Newsom is about to get sued by environmental-group Center for Biological Diversity, because he continues to allow fracking permits. Key quote: “(Kassie) Siegel said the permits are ‘illegal’ and fail to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. The Center for Biological Diversity warned Newsom on Sept. 21 of their intent to sue if his administration continued to issue fracking permits.

The Conversation takes a look at violence taking place against female political leaders—with male lawmakers often the perpetrators. Key quote: “On Sept. 24, House Democrats Rashida Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Jackie Speier introduced a resolution–a largely symbolic congressional statement that carries no legal weight but provides moral support on certain issues–recognizing violence against women in politics as a global phenomenon. House Resolution 1151, which is currently under consideration by the House Judiciary Committee, calls on the government to take steps to mitigate this violence in the United States and abroad.”

• Speaking of violence in politics: Some voters in Alaska and Florida have received emails threatening them to vote for Trump, “or we will come after you.” Some of the emails say they were sent by the Proud Boys, but NPR reports that seems unlikely, and the group is denying involvement—and in fact, NBC News says the FBI thinks Iran may be involved.

• The good news: NPR looks at increasing evidence that COVID-19 death rates are going down because medical professionals have gotten a lot better at treating the disease:Two new peer-reviewed studies are showing a sharp drop in mortality among hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The drop is seen in all groups, including older patients and those with underlying conditions, suggesting that physicians are getting better at helping patients survive their illness.

• The bad: There’s yet more evidence that the pandemic is taking more lives than those included in the official death counts for COVID-19. According to the CDC: “Overall, an estimated 299,028 excess deaths occurred from late January through October 3, 2020, with 198,081 (66%) excess deaths attributed to COVID-19. The largest percentage increases were seen among adults aged 25–44 years and among Hispanic or Latino persons.”

• More CDC-related news: The agency has released new guidance on what, exactly, it means to be in “close contact” with someone who has COVID-19. According to the Washington Post: “The CDC had previously defined a ‘close contact’ as someone who spent at least 15 consecutive minutes within six feet of a confirmed coronavirus case. The updated guidance, which health departments rely on to conduct contact tracing, now defines a close contact as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, according to a CDC statement Wednesday.

If a voter shows up to a polling place without a mask on Election Day, they will not be turned away, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Do you subscribe to Quibi? No? Neither do I—and therefore it’s no surprise that the streaming service announced it was shutting down today, even though backers had raised $1.75 billion (!) to launch the company.

• And now for some happier, local entertainment news, from the Independent: “There has been almost no programming from the Coachella Valley’s theater companies since the pandemic arrived and ruined everything in March—with one notable exception: CVRep, and its Theatre Thursday virtual shows. And if the California Department of Public Health gives the OK, CVRep—in conjunction with Cathedral City—could become the first local theater company to bring live productions back to the Coachella Valley, starting in December.” Read what CVRep’s Ron Celona had to say here.

• And finally … I am sorry to put this mental picture in your head, but it appears Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character caught Rudy Giuliani doing something less than appropriate: “In the film, (slated to be) released on Friday (Oct. 23), the former New York mayor and current personal attorney to Donald Trump is seen reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals while reclining on a bed in the presence of the actor playing Borat’s daughter, who is posing as a TV journalist.”

Again, thanks for reading. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

There has been almost no programming from the Coachella Valley’s theater companies since the pandemic arrived and ruined everything in March—with one notable exception: CVRep, and its Theatre Thursday virtual shows.

And if the California Department of Public Health gives the OK, CVRep—in conjunction with Cathedral City—could become the first local theater company to bring live productions back to the Coachella Valley, starting in December.

Ron Celona, CVRep’s founding artistic director, explained during a recent phone interview that because the theater company is now the proud owner of its own building—the CVRep Playhouse, in Cathedral City—he couldn’t just wait out the pandemic without doing anything.

“This is a year where I can’t even break even,” he said. “I have to make money just to support the building. So that’s what took us to the current plan.”

That plan started with the launch of Theatre Thursday in April. Every non-holiday Thursday at 6 p.m., CVRep produces a show, via Zoom, free of charge, with the participating artists donating their time and talent. The shows range from staged readings of plays to musical performances to monologues and more.

“Theatre Thursday does two wonderful things: It keeps CVRep in the forefront of our patrons’ and followers’ (minds), to know that something is available from CVRep on a weekly basis,” Celona said. “The other thing is, it keeps the artists active. They can work by doing a monologue or a dance or a piece. … Many artists launched their Zoom experience with us and then went on to support other theater companies.”

Celona said attendance at the shows has varied wildly, from a high of 200 people, to a low of 60 or less.

“There is no guarantee. That’s the difference between a ticket for a show: You know how many people are coming that night,” Celona said. “But there is no guarantee in the virtual world; all of these shows are free of charge. However, we do ask for a donation during the program, and each person receives a thank-you after; the email has a donate button on the thank-you. So we do receive donations each week.”

While donations from supporters and attendees of the virtual Theatre Thursday shows have helped CVRep’s financial situation, the organization was still losing money each month—until sponsors stepped in, Celona said.

“We started in August doing monthly sponsorships, and I’m thrilled to tell you, I expected two or three sponsors a month. Well, I’m wrong. We’re getting five to 10 sponsors a month,” Celona said. “The sponsorship is $500 a month, and they’re thanked at each week’s event. They also rotate on our marquee we have on Highway 111.”

As for CVRep’s hoped-for return to live shows: Celona initially looked at doing CVRep’s full planned season at the Cathedral City Community Amphitheater, which is adjacent to the CVRep Playhouse. However, COVID-19 made that cost-prohibitive.

“With the Equity rules, whether a show be indoor or outdoor, the protocol requires that every actor, and everybody that also comes in contact with that actor, be tested once a week. So that’s the crew; that’s the makeup artist, and so on,” Celona said. “We do six-week contracts for plays. And Equity requires a 24-hour turnaround, which means you can’t go to the county; you have to go to a private lab—and then you need written results.

“As for other expenses involved in doing a production: I need a dressing room. So that means I would need to have a trailer, like an RV—a portable dressing room. I would need a storage unit for the set and the props and everything to come off and on for each performance. And at the amphitheater—this is true even for the one-night events we’re going to be doing—we need to bring in port-a-potties, and they need to be sanitized and cleaned throughout the night.”

Instead of the full productions, CVRep and Cathedral City decided to partner on a series of those aforementioned one-night events. Celona hopes a holiday show will kick things off on Dec. 12. Events would follow on the first three Saturdays of January, February and March (with the exception of that third weekend in March, which we’ll explain in a moment.) Tickets will be $25 per person—much less than a typical CVRep show ticket.

If the outdoor shows do take place, Celona said, social distancing and many other precautions will be in place.

“The proposal that we created for the city of Cathedral City included our 23-page safety manual,” Celona said. “(Attendees) will be taken to pods, if you will—circular or square pods that hold a table for two or four. Each pod is about 10 feet apart for social distance. Everyone will be required to wear masks to come into the venue, and they must wear their masks the entire time, unless they’re eating. When the doors open, they’re going to have an hour and a half before the show. People could either bring their own meal, or they could buy, so to speak, a box lunch, but it will be a dinner. Once that food goes away, then they need to put their masks back on to watch the show.”

Celona said his plans include a once-a-month jazz show, a Latinx series and a Broadway style revue. Then there’s that third weekend in March.

“We’ll be culminating in March with something very exciting: It will be our first Shakespeare festival,” Celona said. “Instead of one night, it’ll be a Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the third week of March. It will include two Shakespeare plays performed in rotation. … Our goal is that it kicks off an annual Shakespeare festival that CVRep produces.”

As you may have noticed, these plans include a lot of “ifs.” The reason: As of now, live performances like this are not allowed by the state. Therefore, CVRep and the city of Cathedral City have written a letter to the state Department of Public Health, asking for a waiver.

“One of the strongest points is the venue holds 2,900 people,” Celona said. “The maximum number of people that we will allow to see a show is 225 people—much less than 10 percent of capacity.”

Beyond the hoped-for amphitheater performances, Celona also has hopes that maybe, just maybe, the company can return to the CVRep Playhouse for one full production to close out the 2020-2021 season.

“The only thing we left in the budget is what was supposed to be the final production of this past season, Native Gardens,” Celona said. “I have it in the budget to produce it in April, inside the playhouse. If that turns out not to be legally allowed, then we just cancel the production.”

For more information, visit cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

I first met Alden West in January when I was helping direct Taking Care of Mimi, a provocative play being produced as a staged reading by the Script to Stage to Screen (S2S2S) theater. West was playing a lead role as a matriarch with dementia whose death leads to a murder investigation—and I couldn’t believe it when West revealed she was 87 years old.

“Eight-seven and a half!” she proudly proclaims.

West, a resident of Sun City in Palm Desert since 2003, was an only child, born in Washington, D.C.

“I figure I can claim any state,” she says with a laugh, “and I was raised all over the country: West Virginia, Detroit, Buffalo, Baltimore, Richmond and New York City. I went to so many different schools, each with its own teaching styles, that when I moved from Buffalo to Baltimore, I found that they had learned script writing in the first-grade, while I hadn’t. I had a little yellow desk at home, and many tears were shed at that desk!

“It was a challenge going to schools in big cities and then in rural areas. I came from Jackson Heights in New York City, where if you bumped into somebody, you’d never say you were sorry. In rural areas, if you bumped into somebody, they’d say they were sorry—they were very polite.”

West’s father worked at Chevrolet, which moved him around a lot; he also served in the Navy during World War II.

“My mom had married early, at age 18, and was a homemaker until the war, when she went to work,” West says. “I was very close to my mother, even when I was a teenager, and I could tell my dad anything. I not only loved my parents; I liked them.

“My dad was a college graduate, and after I graduated high school in Virginia, where we had lived since I was about 11 or 12, I went to Cornell, where both my dad and granddad had gone. I didn’t stay at college, however, because I had promised to marry my first husband, so I left school at Christmas of my sophomore year. If I had stayed in school, I would have majored in theater arts, but I left too soon to declare a major.”

West proudly proclaims that she had three grandparents in Congress.

“My father’s father was a Republican; my mother’s father was a Democrat. Then when my mother’s father passed away, his wife filled out his term. She had to run for it and was elected.”

West’s jobs over the years included retail; she also worked as assistant in a dental office. In 1980, she studied for and got her real estate license. She sold real estate until she moved to Sun City from Hillsborough, Calif.

West started acting in high school, in Falls Church, Va.

“There was a local community theater, and a friend suggested I audition,” West says. “I got a part and was cast as an Eskimo girl, in a full Eskimo costume, doing a hula. I loved it! I did a little acting before I had my children, and I still remember getting my first stage kiss.

“In college, I got the lead part in my freshman year in The Importance of Being Earnest, and in my sophomore year, in The Madwoman of Chaillot. In that one, I actually had to learn how to whistle! I had always been a little shy; I’d cross the street to avoid someone I didn’t know well. What I found was that when I’m onstage, I’m the character.”

West didn’t start acting in earnest until she came to the desert.

“There was a Panhellenic group meeting I attended, and at the end, they announced an audition was being held for some work at local venues,” West says. “They gave me a part, and that gave me confidence. Then Ron Celona (artistic director of Coachella Valley Repertory) cast me in Driving Miss Daisy. I got a nomination from the Desert Theatre League for that part.

“After that,” she laughs, “I tried out for all the old-lady parts!”

West has subsequently earned more nominations and several wins from the Desert Theatre League—including the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

“When I went up to get the lifetime award, I said, ‘I feel like this is the gold watch,’ but then I thought, ‘You people probably don’t even know what I’m talking about.’” Again, she laughs heartily.

West never formally studied acting, although she has taken some courses locally. She says she can’t do “method acting,” in which an actor digs into personal experience to present a realism-based performance. “I try to think of what is written and who that character is. I try to figure out how that character would deal with the situation being portrayed.

“Truth is, it’s getting more difficult to memorize lines. Sometimes, there’s a word I just can’t get, and I have to substitute one. Lately, I’m noticing that I can only be friends with someone who can complete my sentences,” she says, again with a laugh. “I always have to respond to what’s written and what’s happening onstage in that moment.”

Respond, she does. In the show I helped direct with Script to Stage to Screen, West portrayed an aging woman whose family is at odds about her condition. West’s ability to become that woman and respond to what was happening around her, even when she had no dialogue, was astounding.

West has three children—two daughters and a son. Her second marriage began in 1960 and lasted until her husband died in 2011.

“I’m lucky to have two of my children living fairly close, and the third has a place in Mexico, so it’s a great place for a getaway,” she says.

Does West have a guilty pleasure? “Sweets,” she answers immediately. “My kids tell me I’m indecisive, but I’ll take a cookie over a drink any day.”

How has the current stay-at-home policy affected West? “Being an only child, I’ve had no problem at all,” she says. “I walk every day and do my cardio exercises. I’m used to being alone. I even prefer it sometimes. I’ve learned to adapt to whatever is going on.”

That is a reaction worth emulating.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Ron Celona looked weary as patrons entered the CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City for the Saturday, March 14, matinee performance of The City of Conversation.

This was supposed to be a bustling, packed weekend of theater in the Coachella Valley. At least four theaters were opening new productions, while two more companies continued successful shows.

But as of that Saturday afternoon, The City of Conversation was the only show still open. Before we entered the theater—not even one-third full—Celona confided that after the Sunday show, CVRep, too, would be going dark.

Barring a miracle, we were watching the last play to be performed in the Coachella Valley by our fantastic theater companies in quite some time.

The production of The City of Conversation was a fantastic. Thanks to a great cast, led by Martha Hackett as old-school liberal activist/socialite Hester Ferris, the play showed how political differences can rip a family apart. It was compelling and riveting—so much so that it managed to make at least some theater-goers temporarily forget the unprecedented weirdness going on outside.

That is, until one of the characters made a joke about an expired toilet-paper coupon.

Celona’s angst over whether or not to let the show go on encapsulates the dilemma our valley’s producers faced heading into the weekend: On one hand, out of an abundance of caution, they could do societal good by closing the theater doors and having people staying home. On the other, they could take precautions and let the amazing, expensive work they’d rehearsed, built sets for and toiled over for weeks and months be seen and enjoyed by people who badly needed a distraction from the outside world.

As of Thursday, March 12, when the Independent started reaching out to local theater professionals, all six shows were slated to go on as scheduled—with the aforementioned precautions.

“We are offering hand sanitizer to people who have bought tickets,” said Chuck Yates, whose Coyote StageWorks was set to open The Velocity of Autumn the next night in the company’s new home at the Palm Springs Cultural Center. “For those who haven’t bought tickets yet, we don’t know if they will come.

“It’s a huge financial impact. Theater is never easy, and this is particularly hard. … There are a lot of people who don’t know what to do. All of the small theaters here, like us—nobody is in a financial situation to handle this, so we are opening The Velocity of Autumn. … It’s got heart; it’s funny; it’s beautifully written. It’s perfect for our community.”

The play—about an 80-year-old artist who’s barricaded herself in her Brooklyn brownstone with Molotov cocktails (!) to keep her family from removing her—would have been a lovely distraction for people who needed it. But these are unprecedented times.

Yates called back later in the day on Thursday to let us know he’d changed his mind.

“Of course I’m disappointed,” he said. “But we will try to figure out alternative dates. Right now, we’re biding time, waiting to see what the news brings. Maybe we can do it in a few weeks or months, or maybe next season.”

Robbie Wayne, the producing artistic director at the LGBT-themed Desert Rose Playhouse, told us on Thursday he intended to continue the run of Beautiful Thing, which had opened to rave reviews the weekend before.

“You’re not given a class on how to do this. Nobody knows how to handle this, so we are learning as we go,” he said. “I’m trying to be as informed as possible about this—everyone’s trying to figure it out. We haven’t had a large number of refund requests, but we are trying to figure out how to do this—it’s a dilemma. We don’t want it to be about the money, but that has to be taken into consideration for the venue. As of right now, we are removing snacks; we offer hand sanitizers; we are scrubbing the place down; and we are telling people stay home if you don’t feel well. But we also want to keep some normalcy in our lives.

“We want to be responsible for helping to curb this outbreak … It’s a hard place to be in. I have the TV on all the time. I go with whatever my gut tells me at the end of the day, because 24 hours can change everything. It is minute by minute now, because there is so much to consider.”

Wayne’s words were spot-on: The next day, he made the decision to suspend the weekend’s shows.

“We have staff members and patrons with compromised immune systems, so I went with my conscience. There are no winners in a situation like this, unfortunately,” Wayne said.

Over at Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, the same dilemma played out: After announcing on Wednesday that the “curtain will go up!” on the weekend’s opening of—yes, really—How to Survive an Apocalypse, the next day, executive director Shawn Abramowitz and artistic director Jerome Elliott announced the show would not go on, at least for opening weekend.

“We are so proud of our team for their magnificent work on this play,” they said. “This was a hard decision, but we feel it is the right call during this unsettled and confusing time.

That meant that as of Friday night, three of the six shows were still open: Palm Canyon Theatre’s The Pajama Game, and the opening night for Desert Theatreworks’ The Producers went on as scheduled, along with CVRep’s The City of Conversation.

“We have scrubbed the theater down,” Celona said on Thursday, March 12. “We have a cleaning crew coming in after every performance. We have purchased professional wall-mounted sanitizing dispensers for the lobby and the theater area. Our theater is 208 seats, so we are less than the 250-seat gatherings that are being cancelled, and we are about 50 to 60 percent of capacity. The bottom line is, when our accountants say we have to close, we close, and when the county of Riverside says we have to close, we close.”

The morning after those Friday-night shows, both Palm Canyon Theatre and Desert Theatreworks announced they would go dark. CVRep followed two days later.

“I hope if someone has a ticket to a live theater event, and the show is closed due to the virus, that they would consider donating the money to the theater instead of asking for a refund,” Coyote StageWorks’ Yates said. “This is the kind of thing that kills arts organizations.”

Published in Theater and Dance

Coachella Valley Repertory has chosen a re-imagined version of Jerome Kass’ Ballroom as its second production this season.

Originally based on Kass’ Emmy Award-winning teleplay Queen of the Stardust Ballroom starring Maureen Stapleton, the show morphed into the 1978 Broadway musical Ballroom, which was nominated for eight Tony Awards, winning the Tony for Best Choreography.

This is the most ambitious production the Small Professional Theatre with Equity status has ever pulled off: CVRep’s version includes all the musical numbers from the Broadway production, plus several restored songs—and three brand-new numbers, written by Marilyn and Alan Bergman, and Billy Goldenberg, who also wrote the music and lyrics for the original. This production boasts a cast of 24, an onstage eight-piece orchestra and impressive sets by Jimmy Cuomo. There are some lovely moments, along with strong singing, and often-entertaining dancing.

Unfortunately, despite the grandness of the production, and all of the great bells and whistles, the pacing of this production of Ballroom slow, and the audience is left feeling vaguely unsatisfied.

Set in the 1970s, the story centers around Bea Asher (Melodie Wolford), a lonely Bronx widow who doesn’t know what to do with herself since the death of her husband the year before. Friends convince her to tag along to a night at the local dance hall, the Stardust Ballroom. It’s a place where other middle-aged folks meet to socialize, kick up their heels—and hopefully find romance.

Bea hits the jackpot when she meets Al Rossi (Bill Nolte), a local mailman … who happens to be married. Their budding romance is not received well by Bea’s meddling sister, Helen (Marcia Rodd), or her daughter, Diane (Aviva Pressman). They would prefer that Bea continue mourning, though it’s been a year since her husband’s death. The men in the family, son David (Sean Timothy Brown) and brother-in-law Jack (Bill Lewis), are far more accepting of Bea’s newfound happiness.

There are some interesting characters who frequent the Stardust Ballroom, including Bea’s buddy Angie (Teri Ralston), Harry “The Noodle” (Doug Graham), recent heart-attack-survivor Shirley (Corinne Levy), and current Queen of the Ballroom, Pauline (Leslie Tinnaro).

The Stardust Orchestra is terrific. Featuring Bill Saitta (bass), Dominique Torres (drums), Kurt Kelley (keyboards), Dave Thomason (reeds), Stewart Undem (trombone), Stan Watkins (trumpet), Cindy Brogan (vioIin) and musical director Scott Storr on piano, the band executes the score beautifully, and provides wonderful musical interludes during what seem like endless scene changes.

The constant rearranging of the set is one of the biggest problems with this production. Part of that is due to the way the show is written, of course. However—given the huge stage CVRep has to work with—one wonders if Bea’s apartment couldn’t have been stationary, with the shift in focus between there and the ballroom indicated with lighting changes, rather than dragging furniture on and off repeatedly.

The ensemble does well, with a nice feeling of camaraderie onstage. Though one would not expect a Bronx dance hall to be filled with hoofers like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, I was hoping to see more than the few flashes of great dancing this production offers.

The best part of this show is the sweet love story between Bea and Al, and the strength of the lead actors. Wolford captures our hearts as Bea. We root for her as she tentatively steps into her new life, and with the support of Al’s love, blossoms. She’s also a dynamic singer—even if she missed opportunities to really wow the audience during her big number, “Fifty Percent,” and the reprise of “I Wish You a Waltz.” Both renditions were lovely, but could have concluded with a bit more drama and “oomph.”

Nolte is marvelous as Al. A big, lovable teddy bear, his sometimes-awkward attempts to win Bea’s heart are touching. He shows off his superb vocal pipes on “Suddenly There’s You,” one of the more memorable musical numbers.

Both Rodd, as Bea’s sister Helen, and Ralston, as Bea’s friend Angie, are marvelous. When Bea shows off her new haircut and wardrobe, Rodd’s reaction is swift and priceless: “You look ridiculous!” Pressman and Brown, as Bea’s children, are quite good.

Local favorite Doug Graham nearly steals the show as the odd but highly skilled dancer Harry “The Noodle.” He commands the stage every time he appears; too bad we don’t get to see more of him.

The revamped Ballroom score is pleasant, but not particularly memorable. One notable exception is “When a Guy Really Knows How to Dance,” a group number featuring several of the dance-hall gals.

Director Ron Celona and choreographer Jose De La Cuesta do a nice job of keeping the large cast moving around the stage smoothly—a monumental task. Celona also pulls some strong acting out of his leads. But the production is long (about 2 1/2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission), and the many set changes and the lack of show-stopping musical numbers make it seem even longer.

Pretty music, fun sets, strong lead actors and enjoyable dancing make CVRep’s Ballroom a lovely, if flawed, evening of theater. It’s neither momentous, nor deeply moving, but it’s lovely.

Ballroom is performed at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 16, the CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City, 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive. Tickets are $53 to $63. For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

If your holiday schedule is not yet completely packed, take note: Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre is bringing back its popular Twisted Broadway fundraiser.

What makes these revues of show tunes twisted? According to the press release, Twister Broadway “will feature a lineup of talented Broadway artists performing songs that were originally written for the opposite gender, as well as songs they always wanted to sing, but couldn’t, because they would be miscast.”

“We did it two years ago,” said Ron Celona, CVRep’s founding artistic director. “We wanted to see how people would react to it, and people had so much fun. It was a great, different way of raising money compared to the thousands of other fundraisers out there for different nonprofit organizations. So we decided to do it again this year, and in our new venue. For the first time, it will be under our own roof.

“And this time, we’re doing two shows: One at 4 p.m., and one at 7:30 p.m. In between the two shows, there will be receptions that come with each ticket.”

The funds raised will not only help CVRep continue to put on professional Equity theatrical productions; it’ll help CVRep as it expands its education programs via the CVRep Conservatory.

“We built a school,” Celona said, proudly. “Adjacent to our new theater was a Mexican restaurant. We own the whole property, so we spent the last year and a half gutting the restaurant, and building a two-room schoolhouse, basically, with a soundproof wall in between the two classrooms. We opened our first semester in the new school (a couple of months ago), and we had 80 students for that first semester, which I think is pretty damn good. Also, we’re going to have a holiday semester, and then we’ll open our winter/spring semester. My goal is to double the attendance in those winter/spring classes.”

CVRep is offering a wide range of courses, beginning with “Broadway Babies” for ages 4-7; acting for ages 8-10 and 11-14; “Stage Combat/Sword-Fighting” for daring high school students; and adult classes including “The Art of Auditioning With Monologues,” “Voice and Movement for the Actor” and improv classes.

“We get a lot of middle-aged to senior citizens in these adult classes,” Celona said. “Also included in our educational programming is our outreach program. We have teaching artists who are out teaching in the schools. Right now, they’re at Cathedral City High School. So, we go there instead of them coming to us.

“Lastly, another project we have is a comedy and improv festival that will be happening at the end of May 2020. People will apply to be a part of that from all over the country.”

Back to Twisted Broadway: Celona said he borrowed the idea from Broadway itself.

“The concept, which has been done in New York for years, (comes from a revue) called Broadway Backwards, and that is an annual fundraiser for the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fund. I got the title, Twisted Broadway, from a show done by a company in Australia that uses the same concept. I thought that was a much more fun title.

“But, ultimately, some of these concepts by other companies are just gender-bending. I thought that could become boring, so I’ve expanded the concept, and I’m including parodies of favorite show tunes, and that’s a lot of fun. There will be some group numbers that will be parodies, and then I have an individual artist, Robert Yacko, who’s going to be doing two parodies: on Sondheim, and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Then, in the arena of gender-bending, (we’ll have) a moment that comes from a wonderful show called Side Show. There are two sisters … conjoined twins who are attached at the hip, and the whole musical is about them. We’re going to have a man and a woman attached, so it’s just twisting it and making it different and, hopefully, funny. The most important part here is that all of the songs are comical.”

Celona said Julie Garnyé, who had been listed as appearing in the show, had to pull out of the production due to a conflict. “I’ve replaced her with Alyssa Simmons, who’s currently doing Frozen at Disney,” Celona said. “(She joins) Jeffrey Landman, who is doing Frozen as well. They’ll be playing the twins in Side Show. Since they already know each other, that will help the chemistry.”

Other performers slated to appear include Randy Brenner, Erica Hanrahan, Loren Freeman, Sal Mistretta, Perry Ojeda and Kristen Towers Rowles.

Twisted Broadway, a fundraiser for the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, will take place at 4 and 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 12, at the CVRep Playhouse, 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Cathedral City. Tickets are $150 to $300, and include receptions between the two shows. For tickets or more information, 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

We’ve reached the end of the season at most of the valley’s theater companies—sob! But what a year it’s been, and what a great way to end it: with Good People, at Coachella Valley Repertory.

Have you seen the new CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City? This is the second production here, and right away, you have to love the steeply raked levels of seating so that no head, no matter how tall, can blot out your view of the stage. Huzzah! And they serve coffee at the snack bar! Can it get better than this?

Well, actually yes. I hate to give this away, but nothing could dampen the surprise that awaits you when you see the scenery: The amazing Jimmy Cuomo, CVRep’s resident set designer, nearly steals the show. Wait until you see what he does with this high-tech new stage! The open set that greets the audience is a grotty and depressing back alley in South Boston’s lower end, with one lonely plain chair on the stage. Some jaw-dropping theater magic is in store for you thanks to Cuomo. It gave us goose bumps.

The playwright of Good People is David Lindsay-Abaire, a Pulitzer Prize-winner. When this play opened on Broadway, it garnered all kinds of awards, including two Tony nominations. If his name seems familiar, it’s because he penned Rabbit Hole (which was given a riveting production by Dezart Performs in January 2018), and you might remember him as author and lyricist for Shrek the Musical. You are in good hands here.

The show’s guest director, Michael Matthews, has brilliantly aimed this script directly at your brain pan. Its gritty reality is played out, giving the audience a being-there feeling that never wavers. The dialogue is cleverly “telescoped” so that Matthews’ actors appear truly spontaneous, and it gives the show a spirit of breathless anticipation. There isn’t a great deal of movement onstage, but it is accomplished logically (except twice when an actor moved on someone else’s line … distracting, but not important.)

Remember the seedy back alley we mentioned? Our protagonist, Margaret, magnificently and utterly believably portrayed by Reamy Hall, is marched out the back of the dollar store where she toils, by manager Stevie, perfectly underplayed by Erik Odom, for a talking-to about her work performance. It does not go well. In the next scene, in a cramped kitchen with two friends—the cynical Dottie, unforgettably played by Barbara Gruen, and the fiery gossip Jean, delightfully played by Candi Milo—Margie bemoans her lot. We learn about the women’s relationships with their families, the neighbors and each other. We learn about their values like “Southie Pride,” the local spirit in so many places—here with a special defiance attached to it. We see some flashes of the infamous Irish temper. We learn about their lives in “the projects,” and attempts to escape—with various results.

How much does it matter where you come from? So many desert residents cheerfully admit to “re-inventing” themselves upon arrival here, without a trace of embarrassment about it. But back in Southie, it apparently matters a great deal. Those who do well are jeered at as being “lace-curtain Irish.” Those who never make it away from their ghetto will forever play desperate mind games of “What if?” How much does our environment really shape us?

But we also discover that, in looking back, two people can selectively remember the same incident very differently. Michael Matthys gives us a deliciously multi-layered performance as Mikey Dillon, who, through hard work and some luck, makes it out of the neighborhood. Now an upscale and successful doctor, he is married to his privileged, elegant and sophisticated wife, an African-American woman named Kate, played by the smoothly stunning Nadege August. When they find themselves confronted with Mike’s past by Margie, their attitudes about it show how memory can be affected by time. Kate, with her combination of high-society finishing-school grace—plus her phenomenal figure in a skin-tight knit, and her wicked eagerness to sneak into the wild side—is one of the most complex characters on any stage, and August shrewdly plays every card in her hand to create this fascinating role.

The play’s theme slowly emerges: the eternal conflict between truth and rationalization. How far can your moral compass wobble before you are no longer a good person? Can blaming someone else justify your actions? Are your choices the right ones? How far will you bend your morality to change someone else’s life? Whom do you “owe,” and how much? Whew …

Study the biographies of the actors (and staff!) in the hefty program. The full bios detail where you may have glimpsed these terrific performers elsewhere, in movies or on TV. These experienced pros know how to sweep you into their world. They will drag you through a bumpy mix of thoughts and emotions … and they’ll bring you to your feet at the end of the show.

This theater’s matchless brain trust, led by artistic director Ron Celona, has assembled a formidable staff. Kudos to lighting designer Moira Wilkie Whitaker, production stage manager Marcedes L. Clanton, sound designer Rebecca Kessin, sound engineer/audio technician Karlene Roller, costume designer Chandler Smith, hair/makeup artist Lynda Shaeps, and prop master Doug Morris. Flawless work!

Good People is performed at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, May 19, the CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City, 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive. (There is no show Tuesday, May 7.) Tickets are $53. For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

There is only one word to express the feeling one gets when entering Coachella Valley Repertory’s new digs: awe.

Artistic director Ron Celona and his board of directors have completely transformed the old IMAX theater in Cathedral City into a live playhouse worthy of Broadway. From the impressive “Wall of Donors” and the expansive refreshment bar with gracious bartenders, to the luxurious VIP Lounge (called the Producer’s Room)—complete with its own flat-screen TV, piano and automated sliding glass door—everything screams “class.” The lobby of the new CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City also features a rendering of the Cathedral City Downtown Arts and Entertainment District. With CVRep as a hub, if all goes according to plan, it will feature an outdoor amphitheater, an alternative transportation trail and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ new gaming/retail and entertainment center. As for the playhouse, the $3 million price tag was covered by private donors, a loan from the city and a grant from the Cathedral City Downtown Foundation.

Then there is the theater itself: Celona has more than doubled his seating capacity (208 versus 86 in his previous location) and installed a massive 2,700-square-foot stage.

It’s all the realization of a dream Celona said kicked into high gear when he left his position directing plays at the Joslyn Center 12 years ago. He took a year off and traveled the country, picking the brains of other successful theater companies. Celona’s goal was always to produce “theater of substance,” he said, adding that Coachella Valley audiences have grown more sophisticated in recent years. As a result, the timing was just right for CVRep to take the step up to the current location.

The company’s production of Chess—with the book by Richard Nelson, lyrics by Tim Rice and music by ABBA’s Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson—was a wise choice to christen the new facility.

The musical tells the story of a world chess championship between brash American Freddie Trumper (Garrett Marshall) and dour Russian Anatoly Sergievsky (David Sattler); the characters are loosely based on Viktor Korchnoi and Bobby Fischer. Freddie’s assistant is the beautiful Florence (Gabriela Carrillo), who tries her best to keep him in line. Anatoly’s second, Molokov (Michael Dotson), is actually a KGB agent. The first game of the match does not go well, and a meeting is called to smooth things over. Florence and Anatoly eventually realize they have feelings for each other; this budding romance and Freddie’s erratic behavior cause Florence to leave her post.

The Russian wins the chess championship—and defects to the West. While defending his title year a later in Bangkok, with Florence by his side, Anatoly faces even more complications: His wife, Svetlana (Ashley Hunt), has showed up to watch the match. Meanwhile, Freddie’s agent, Walter (Glenn Rosenblum), suggests to Florence that her father, whom she has not seen since they fled Hungary decades earlier, may still be alive. I won’t give away more, but the plot is chock-full of betrayal, heartbreak and political intrigue.

The cast is stellar across the board. Garrett Marshall’s Freddie is spot-on—cocky, immature and full of swagger. As the somber Anatoly, David Sattler is excellent. He has a soaring singing voice and strong acting chops; both his romantic and patriotic conflicts ring true.

Michael Dotson is terrific as Molokov. Cold, calculating and sly as a fox, he embodies our vision of a Russian spy. The Russian accents used by both Dotson and Sattler are quite believable. As Freddie’s money-hungry agent, Walter, Glenn Rosenblum is a perfect fit, as is Jeremy Whatley as the arbiter, who enforces the rules of chess throughout the show, and keeps the matches moving along. Ashley Hunt is quite strong as Anatoly’s betrayed wife, with musical pipes that shake the rafters.

The ensemble (Sydney Clemenson, Brianna Maloney, Cassidy McCarron, Roman Skryabin, Daniel Sugimoto and Michael Rawls) adds the right touch to the proceedings. Each actor is featured in small speaking roles, and their group numbers are top-notch.

But the highlight in this superb cast is Gabriela Carrillo as Florence. Lovely and charismatic, she has us rooting for her immediately. We feel her frustration in trying to control Freddie, and then later, we relate to her true love for Anatoly. Her singing voice is flawless, and she has some of the best numbers in the show, including “Heaven Help My Heart” and her duet with Svetlana, “I Know Him So Well.”

“Chess” has a bit of a rock-opera feel, and some of the music is a bit dissonant. If you’re a big fan of Oklahoma! and hoping for tunes to hum on the way home, you may be a bit disappointed.

The orchestra, led by musical director Scott Storr on piano, is fabulous. The choreography, lighting, sound and costumes are all outstanding. Special mention has to be made of Jimmy Cuomo’s exquisite set.

But the biggest kudos of all have to go to director Ron Celona for assembling such an amazing cast and coaxing stellar performances from each actor. Chess is an impressive production that’s well worth seeing.

It’s amazing to see the dream that Celona has made come true. Thanks to him for providing the Coachella Valley with thought-provoking, quality theater—now in a gorgeous Broadway-style venue.

Chess is performed at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, March 31, the CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City, 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive. Tickets are $53, and the running time is about 2 1/2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

With the show White, the Coachella Valley Repertory Company is bidding farewell to its longtime Rancho Mirage location in the Atrium. In March, the company will move into its new home in downtown Cathedral City—the home of the former IMAX theater.

Artistic director Ron Celona has salted the internet with photos of the re-creation process, step by awesome step, and the new theater will be a dream come true. Kudos to managing director Gary Palmer, board president Joe Giarrusso and the entire company for giving birth to this theatrical wonderment.

As for White: The company offers a theme every season, and this season’s is “a hand full of -isms.” CV Rep never spells out for us which “-ism” is which, but White is a play that slogs into the quagmire topic of race in today’s America; specifically, the play, by James Ijames, tackles race while also examining the eternal question: What is art?

The more one studies art, the more baffling the answer becomes. Think about it: Many artists who were reviled in their time were later celebrated as visionary geniuses, and their works went on to command astronomical sums. Entire groups of artists who were scoffed at later became the pride of the cities that ignored their early work. Artists are often ahead of their time—hence, misunderstood—but sheer talent can often overcome the tastes of the times. Artists, gleefully busting through the limitations, force a reluctant public to grow up and appreciate their innovation. Think of painters Monet, Picasso and Jackson Pollock, sculptor Henry Moore, Alexander Calder’s mobiles, and so on

White tackles another, more-sinister aspect of the art world: popularity. Undeniably, fads come and go in that little universe. The artist who is the rave of the moment can be completely rejected by fickle peers tomorrow as “out of fashion.”

We open the play with Jane, played by Charlotte Munson, the redheaded curator of a big-deal gallery, under the gun to find The Next Big Thing. She decides—or those who pay her salary decide—that there are too many white males behind today’s paintings. Think about it: The field has been almost completely dominated by them for centuries. But she is going to change all that with a new show: She wants to create a “New America” presentation that will “truly reflect” America—in other words, with no white male artists.

Jane visits her friend Gus, played by Paul David Story, a handsome, blond, white, male artist. She admires his work but refuses to include him in her prestigious new show. He is stunned by her reverse discrimination but is helpless to fight it. He expresses his irritation to his partner, Tanner, an Asian school teacher, played by Anthony Saludares, moping that “you’d think that being gay would count for something.”

However, Gus is suddenly visited by Saint Diana, a goddess with great moves and a vague resemblance to Diana Ross, played by Franceli Chapman. Jane told Gus that if he were “black and a female,” he could easily be included in this “New America” show, and Saint Diana gives him an idea to make it happen: Gus remembers a black actress named Vanessa who worked with Tanner, and they contact her to see if she will accept the challenge of becoming the front for Gus’ art. Vanessa, also played by Franceli Chapman, refuses, but then—obviously for plot advancement—re-thinks it and accepts.

They set out to construct the character who will “revolutionize how people think about diversity.” Just dreaming up her new name becomes a whole event; building her backstory and family history is another. How will she walk and talk? What will she wear? What about her hairdo? Much to consider.

Of particular interest is the fact that Gus’ work is largely white in color! (This happens to be something of personal interest, because I actually had as an art teacher a guy who helped start this movement way back when. He painted only in white, but it turned out that white in one area of the canvas was tinged with pink; in another area, under close scrutiny, you could see some blue, or grey, or whatever—his point being that white isn’t really just white. It was actually very thought-provoking. None of this is much discussed in this play, however, lest we become too bogged down in the aesthetics and distracted from the social aspect of the author’s interest.)

You might gather by now that this is a play that appeals to your brain, not to your emotions. You won’t be dragged through a lot of personal feelings, even if the point about color in people, rather than paintings, is somewhat belabored by this otherwise witty writer.

Director Ron Celona has made the most of his workspace with clever blocking (sometimes managing to pose his actors against huge blank white panels, briefly making them into paintings themselves). We look forward to seeing what he will be able to create with the new theater that will at last liberate him from this venue’s rather challenging layout, which even separates one part of the audience from the other.

Art! In theater, in paintings, in our lives … it makes us stop and think.

White is performed at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 17, at the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, 69930 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. (There is no show Tuesday, Jan. 29.) Tickets are $53, and the show is 100 minutes, with no intermission. For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

At 69, Gina Bikales is the embodiment of the word “indefatigable”: She’s seemingly incapable of being tired out.

Gina leads Script2Stage2Screen (S2S2S), the theater company which presents staged readings of new works at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rancho Mirage. (Disclosure: I have acted with S2S2S before.)

“We (the Coachella Valley) have theater going on year-round now, (as opposed) to when I came to the desert in 2000,” Bikales says. “(We have) community theaters presenting ‘chestnuts’ (older hit plays that always attract an audience); professional companies doing edgier works; three great full-time companies; and S2S2S taking it a step further, doing only new, unpublished works. We want scripts that speak to current issues.”

Bikales came to her role with S2S2S—running the program as well as casting, directing and occasionally taking a role herself—with a lifetime of connection to the arts. Born in Topeka, Kan., and raised in Kansas City, Gina graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in theater education and language arts.

“I came from an artsy family,” she says. “My mom was a sculptor, and my dad, although a psychiatrist by profession, always designed and made jewelry. They provided an artistic education for all of us (an older brother, and a younger brother and sister). We started piano at 5, and by second-grade, we could choose a second instrument to learn.

“I’ve done theater since I was young. At 12, I signed up to go to the Midwest Music and Art Camp. Once there, I hurt my foot, and there was no way I could dance, so my dad talked to them and got me into the theater group. I was the youngest one, but they took me under their wings, and I fell in love with it.

“When I got to college, I thought I wanted to be a doctor, because I loved science, but I hated math. When I realized how much math was required, I didn’t want to go forward. I now realize part of my feelings about math were associated with it not being a ‘feminine’ thing to be good at. Anyway, my college adviser literally stood in front of his office door and said, ‘You can’t leave until you declare a major,’ so I focused on theater education. After college, I left Kansas City for North Carolina to teach at a prep school.”

Bikales subsequently married and moved to Santa Clara in the Bay Area, and “put my husband through law school.” She later divorced and returned to Kansas City to raise her three sons, all of whom are now professional musicians.

“I worked as a teacher, but the arts were always an important part of my life,” she says. “At 16, my first summer job was teaching at the only performing-arts camp at that time in Kansas City, Camellot Academy. Just after college, they asked me to take over running it, and until about 2005, I went back to Kansas City and ran Camellot every summer.”

Bikales left Kansas City after marrying “a desert guy” and has been in the Coachella Valley since 2000, currently residing in Palm Desert.

“Much to my surprise, I fell in love with the desert and decided to stay after that marriage ended,” she says. “I was basically a retired lady, but one day, I went to a local meeting of the Coachella Valley Alumnae Panhellenic Association. I was seated with Jeanette Lyons and Lynn Talbot, who were doing a show at the Joslyn Center. I got cast, and from then on, I’ve been involved in theater here.

“Acting came easily for me, and I loved it. The first time I did it, I was hooked. I put acting on hold when my kids were young, but began doing community theater once they were old enough to be left at night.

“Once I left Kansas City and came to the desert, I still returned to the Camellot program, but I was ready to work with adults. Ron Celona had been running the theater at Joslyn Senior Center, and when he left, they asked me to take his place. I said, ‘Absolutely!’ Meanwhile, my divorce attorney was saying, ‘You need to get a job.’ His partner was development director with the Visiting Nurse Association, and he hired me as development manager to support the hospice program. You can’t get a better reason to be willing to ask people for money.”

Bikales’ experience as a teacher, actor and manager has influenced her ability to direct.

“When you’re acting, your primary focus is on character, and how that character relates to others on the stage,” she says. “When you direct, you have to pick up lots of other threads and concerns in a script: lighting, costuming and the ability to tie it all together with a bow so it works to communicate what the playwright intended. A show needs to look seamless and effortless to the audience. It’s both a creative and management kind of position.”

S2S2S began as a project to feature the work of gay Coachella Valley playwrights. Bikales began working with the group in its first season. After the two founders retired, she was asked to take over the program.

“We have so much talent here, from retired actors to accountants who’ve always wanted to act,” she says. “We have people who’ve never been onstage before, and some who’ve won awards for performing. Being in an S2S2S production only requires three weeks of evening rehearsals, and it’s fun.”

S2S2S, now in its 10th year, may be the most economical theater experience in the valley, at only $10 a ticket. Usually the playwright is in the audience to gauge reactions, as well as take questions and comments after the production. The number of shows presented each season depends on how many plays are submitted and considered worthy of a first outing. Play-submission information is at the website, www.script2stage2screen.com.

“It’s been my mission for the last few years to push women, especially women of color, into directing. For some reason, it’s difficult to find women who want to direct,” Bikales says.

“Because the plays we put on are new and unpublished, we can work with the playwright, something you can’t do with a published work. We get submissions from all over the country, and there are a lot of local writers who want to get an audience’s reactions to a work in progress. I’m in it from the submission phase to the final curtain call. I’ll do S2S2S as long as it’s a joy to do, and it is!”

S2S2S, under Bikales’ direction, has garnered 17 Desert Theatre League awards. She served as president of the DTL for eight years, and has been on the boards of other local organizations. Despite recent health issues, she directs individual plays, carefully casts local talent, scrounges costumes and props, and occasionally returns to the stage.

Gina Bikales is, indeed, indefatigable.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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