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What can you say about a Terrence McNally play? You know before you enter the theater that he’s waiting to spring a surprise on you. But truthfully … this time, I didn’t think it would happen.

The story is about “two middle-aged ladies who travel to India.” OK … that doesn’t sound very exciting. But then again, I have friends who travelled to India and were so traumatized by the experience that they still can’t talk about what happened to them there. So was this play going to be about something like tourist muggings or pickpockets? Not everybody’s cup of oolong!

I got to Coachella Valley Repertory early for the Wednesday preview (the folks there graciously agreed to let us review the first preview show so we could get this piece into the February print edition); I wanted to study the program. Inserted between the pages was a drawing of Ganesh or Ganesha (either is acceptable—I looked it up) with a microscopic-print explanation of the “symbolism of Ganesha.” It’s worth reading; it describes everything from his trident to his fruit basket to his busted tusk. During this preshow, the audience is treated to an endless earful of sitar music, which will either completely jangle your nerves or transport you off to imaginary India.

The set is basic East Indian. The characters are transported from one venue to another by portaging bits and props that symbolically change the locales between scenes. The lights come up on the Elephant God Ganesha himself, half-naked and wearing an elaborate elephant head … which, alas, creates a muffling effect. The actor, Mueen Jahan, enunciates carefully and speaks as loudly and clearly as he can, but the trunk cuts his vocal projection drastically, and imparts a hollow sound. It’s a conundrum: How do you design a mask of an elephant, trunk and all, but not cover the mouth of the actor behind it? This problem resonated through the whole play, as the actor switched from role to role, wearing the elephant mask throughout. It brings us to a question for our brave director, Ron Celona: Did Jahan need to continue wearing the mask even when he wasn’t playing Ganesh? If playwright McNally demanded it, then Celona’s off the hook. Otherwise, couldn’t Jahan remove the mask while playing those other parts, as well as changing his costume, dialect and vocal quality, as he does?

Sean Galuszka plays so many roles that we lost count. We see him switch effortlessly from a gay flight attendant to an Untouchable Indian beggar to a Dutch tourist to a blood-spattered accident victim/ghost to a suave ballroom dancer, and on and on. He owns each role beautifully, and gets to show off his repertoire of voices, accents and looks. This is a superb opportunity for any actor to strut his stuff, and Galuszka, the only non-Equity cast member, gobbles it up; it’s delightful to see the actor’s craft on display.

Then we meet the ladies. Margaret, with her amazing red hair and fine features, is played by Sharon Sharth. She appears at the airport at the beginning of the show, snarking and whining and trying to assert herself. We get to watch her grow in this play (playwrights call it “arc,” the loveliest word) as she reveals bits and pieces of her past, and we slowly begin to understand the backstories that made her the way she is—but she starts out as a control freak and your textbook American tourist from hell. Why?

Katherine, or Kitty, is played by Kathleen M. Darcy, a gentle brunette. She brings too much luggage, tries to ingratiate herself in India by using her few words of Spanish (implying that all foreign countries are basically just one Non-United States), and generally drives Margaret crazy. Yet she is the one who eventually launches the quest for “the perfect Ganesh,” and as we learn about the other side of her seemingly golden life, we grow in respect and sympathy for her. Arc, here, too.

The crucially important thing to remember is this: A Perfect Ganesh is set in 1992. Think about it. Where were you; what were you doing; what was happening then? That’s the whole key to this play. It was pre-political correctness, so it was open-season on minorities in some places. AIDS was stalking us. Life was dangerously different. That’s how McNally gets us: The shock of the contrast to today’s life.

Oh, sure, there are laughs in the script—McNally loves to be downright silly sometimes—but the universal themes that emerge are the real stars of this work. Meanwhile, the actors are so hard-working! These lines are bears. The writing is very cerebral, and the audiences will respond to the ideas rather than the emotion. Don’t look for a lot of action, if that’s your cup of Darjeeling.

On this preview night, there were stumbles; for example, a phone rang after being picked up, and a picture came down, but that’ll be instantly fixed by the time the show emerges from previews.

Once again, Terrence McNally sets out to surprise us, to make us remember, to think. That is the real reason for the play, whether or not that’s your cup of chai.

And, as always, he succeeds, as does CV Rep.

A Perfect Ganesh is performed at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 9; at the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, 69930 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. $40 regular; $35 preview on Thursday, Jan. 23; $50 opening night on Friday, Jan. 24. For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Annenberg Theater (Including Coyote StageWorks)

Dance for Life is a showcase of performances by renowned dance companies to benefit the AIDS Assistance Program, at 6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 17. $95; $200 VIP. Tony nominee Christine Andreas performs her one-woman show be-Mused at 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 18. $60 to $75. Coyote StageWorks’ star-studded fundraiser performance of The Man Who Came to Dinner takes place at 6 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 19. $75 to $500. Coyote StageWorks’ The Andrews Brothers, a salute to the swinging ’40s, is performed at various times Wednesday through Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 24, through Sunday, Feb. 16. $39 to $55. At the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org/annenberg-theater.

Blazing Guns at Roaring Gulch—from Desert Theatreworks

Blazing Guns at Roaring Gulch … Or the Perfumed Badge: An Ol’ Fashion’ Melodrama is the latest show by the new Desert Theatreworks. At 7 p.m., Friday; 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 24, through Sunday, Feb. 2. $25; $23 students; special kids’ prices and group rates available. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

Country Royalty: A Musical Tribute to Hank Williams and Patsy Cline

Hank Williams: Lost Highway star Jason Petty plays Hank Williams, while Grammy-nominated Carolyn Martin performs as Patsy Cline, backed by a live band, at 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 10. $15 to $45. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

The Importance of Being Earnest—from Theatre 29

Oscar Wilde’s classic focuses on country gentleman Jack Worthing and his imaginary big-city brother, Earnest. 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, Jan. 10, through Saturday, Feb. 8, with additional matinees at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 19 and Feb. 2. $12; $10 seniors and military; $8 students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Indian Wells Theater/CSUSB Palm Desert Events

I Do, I Do!, a concert version of the musical, features Joyce Bulifant and Roger Perry; it’s a benefit for the CSUSB Autism Program, at 7 p.m., Friday, Jan. 17. $50. A tribute concert featuring “The Piano Men”—Elton John, Ray Charles, Billy Joel and Little Richard—takes place at 7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 18. $40 for first three rows; $35 for the remainder of the house. An afternoon Pops! concert featuring Yve Evans and the All Star Big Band occurs at 2 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 26. $50.At the Indian Wells Theater at CSUSB Palm Desert, 37500 Cook St. 760-341-6909; pdc.csusb.edu/eventstheater.html.

Invasion of Privacy—from Dezart Performs

This drama is based on the real 1946 case of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who was sued by her friend Zelma Cason for libel and the right to privacy. At 7:30 p.m., Friday; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m., Saturday; and 2:30 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 31, through Sunday, Feb. 9. $22; $18 students, seniors and military. At the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-322-0179; www.dezartperforms.com.

Les Miserables—from the Palm Canyon Theatre

The classic musical is produced by the downtown Palm Springs mainstay. 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 24, through Sunday, Feb. 9. $32; $10 students/children (call the box office). At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Luis Bravo’s Forever Tango

The Broadway hit features 14 tango dancers, a vocalist and an 11-piece orchestra. 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 11; 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 12. $25 to $75. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Man of La Mancha

Enter the mind and world of Don Quixote as he pursues his quest for the impossible dream in this renowned musical. 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 24; 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 25; 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 26. $35 to $105. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Nite Club Confidential—from the Desert Rose Playhouse

The midcentury modern film noir musical stars Joey English as Kay Goodman. 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Jan. 10, through Sunday, Feb. 16. (The Saturday, Feb. 8, show is a 2 p.m. matinee.) $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

A Perfect Ganesh—from Coachella Valley Repertory

CV Rep’s season focusing on the works of Terrence McNally continues with this show about two middle-aged women throwing themselves into a tour of India. 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Wednesday, Jan. 22, through Sunday, Feb. 9. $35 preview (Jan. 22 and 23); $40 regular; $50 opening night (Jan. 24). At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Similar Journeys—from Script2Stage2Screen

Similar Journeys, a play by Palm Springs playwright Robert Abrami, features a cast of six characters in denial, in love, in crises, and in the process of defining their own lives. 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Jan. 10 and 11. $10. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, 72425 Via Vail, Rancho Mirage. 760-345-7938; www.script2stage2screen.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

We all secretly hope that people say nice things about us after we die. In The Story of My Life, currently playing at Coachella Valley Repertory in Rancho Mirage, it’s a promise 12-year-old Alvin and Thomas make to each other (heard in voiceover) as the play opens.

Fast-forward 23 years: Tom, now a professional writer, is struggling to come up with an appropriate eulogy for Alvin, who has committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. It might seem daunting to base an entire holiday-related musical around a eulogy, but it actually works quite well.

Tom begins sharing anecdotes about his lifelong buddy, who now appears as a ghost. We learn that the friendship began thanks to Tom’s fascination with the bookstore run by Alvin’s father. Brian Hill’s book includes several references to Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (a movie the boys watch often), including a flashback with the two friends making snow angels. Some manly roughhousing takes place as Tom heads off to college, leading to Alvin kissing Tom on the neck—a major turning point. Has Alvin always had romantic feelings for Tom? Young Alvin’s decision to wear his mother’s robe to school every Halloween following her death on his sixth birthday might have been a clue. 

The friends grow apart as Alvin stays behind in their small town to take over the bookstore after his father’s death; meanwhile, Tom seeks his fortune in the literary world. It’s natural for childhood friendships to diminish in intensity and sometimes fade away as we reach adulthood. Happy with his career and his girlfriend, Tom accepts this turn of events, while Alvin can’t seem to let go of the past. It’s unclear how much this factored into Alvin’s tragic demise.

As Tom finally stops looking for the “why” of Alvin’s death and instead focuses on celebrating the joy of their long friendship, his writer’s block begins to melt away—and the eulogy takes form.

Though it earned four 2009 Drama Desk Award nominations—Outstanding Music (Neil Bartram), Outstanding Lyrics (Bartram), Outstanding Book (Hill) and Outstanding Musical—The Story of My Life closed on Broadway after just five regular performances. Perhaps New York audiences used to theatrical extravaganzas could not appreciate its minimalism.

The actors in CV Rep’s production, Chris Daniel (Alvin) and Craig McEldowney (Tom), deliver superb, emotionally nuanced performances. Both handle the demanding score and intricate lyrics with great skill. McEldowney’s soaring tenor is particularly impressive. Kudos go to musical director Scott Storr for his orchestration with piano, cello and percussion. It works perfectly in CV Rep’s intimate theater. The only downside: While Bartram’s songs are very pretty, they occasionally sound a bit repetitive.

The simple, all-white set works quite well, with the library behind Tom representing the thousands of stories in his mind. Director Ron Celona succeeds in keeping the two actors moving around just enough to keep things interesting.

As another year comes to an end, we often become nostalgic for the old days and for friendships that have become only memories. CV Rep’s touching production of The Story of My Life reminds us that as we get swept up in the holiday hustle and bustle, it may be more important than we realize to take a moment to answer those Christmas cards from old friends.

The Story of My Life is performed at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Dec. 22, at Coachella Valley Repertory, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $40. For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Annenberg Theater

CK Dance Company presents its “Sensational Seventeenth” annual production of The Nutcracker at 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 6; and 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7. $15 to $25. Dance With Miss Lindsay’s Holiday Showcase happens at 6 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 8. $15 to $20. SPARKLE: An All-Star Holiday Concert, to benefit the Desert AIDS Project, features an appearance by Florence Henderson at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 11; $35 to $400. Helen Reddy Home for the Holidays happens at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 14. $55 to $85. Charles Phoenix’s Retro Holiday Slide Show takes place at 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 20. $35 to $45. At the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org/annenberg-theater.

A Christmas Carol—from Theatre 29

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

CV Rep Luminary Luncheon: Florence Henderson

Carol Brady herself sits down for lunch with CV Rep and friends. Noon, Wednesday, Dec. 11. $35. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Exquisite Potential—from Dezart Performs

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

Indian Wells Theater/CSUSB Palm Desert Tribute Concerts

Neil Diamond and Connie Francis take the stage at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7. Celine Dion is joined by the Xavier College Prep Choir at 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 20. $40 for first three rows; $35 for the remainder of the house. At the Indian Wells Theater at CSUSB Palm Desert, 37500 Cook St. 760-341-6909; pdc.csusb.edu/eventstheater.html.

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play—from Palm Desert Stage Company

This holiday tradition is performed as a 1940s live radio broadcast in front of a studio audience. 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Dec. 6, through Sunday, Dec. 15. $25 general; $23 IPAC friends and seniors; $15 students with ID; $11 children. At the Indio Performing Arts Center, 45175 Fargo St., Indio. 760-636-9682; www.pdstage.com.

Lone Star, Laundry and Bourbon—from the Desert Ensemble Theatre

James McLure’s two one-act “1959 Pink Thunderbird” plays are set in small-town Texas, and focus on the life of Roy, a Vietnam veteran. 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Dec. 20 and 21; 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 21 and 22. $22; $18 students, seniors and military. At the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-565-2476; brownpapertickets.com.

Married Alive—from Desert Theatreworks

A new musical about the ups and downs of marriage focuses on two couples: excited newlyweds, and bored not-so-newlyweds. 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Dec. 6, through Sunday, Dec. 15. $25; $23 students and seniors. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

Million Dollar Quartet

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

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

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

The Nutcracker, by Moscow Classical Ballet

Tchaikovsky’s holiday dance classic is performed by the “Ballet Star Factory” and accompanied by recorded music. 7 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 18. $29 to $29. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

On Thin Ice—from Script2Stage2Screen

Darrell and Dee examine their lives in this play of truth-telling and coming out, written by local playwright Don Clarkson. 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6 and 7. $10. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, 72425 Via Vail, Rancho Mirage. 760-345-7938; www.script2stage2screen.com.

Shrek the Musical—from the Palm Canyon Theatre

The antics of the ogre with the heart of gold are translated to a stage musical! 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Dec. 6, through Sunday, Dec. 22. $32. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Someday at Christmas With Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack

A toe-tapping good time is promised at this holiday show featuring both Rat Pack songs and holiday favorites. 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 14; 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 15. $25 to $75. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

The Story of My Life—from Coachella Valley Repertory

CV Rep gets into the musical game with this tale of lifelong friends Alvin and Thomas. As time tests the bonds of their relationship, best-selling author Thomas calls on his own stories of Alvin to figure out where things went wrong. 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Wednesday, Dec. 4, through Sunday, Dec. 22. $35 preview (Dec. 4 and 5); $40 regular; $50 opening night (Dec. 6). At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

A Tuna Christmas—from the College of the Desert Dramatic Arts Company

In the third-smallest town in Texas, Christmas is celebrated with a highly competitive annual lawn-display contest; the production of A Christmas Carol is jeopardized by unpaid electric bills; and the town is being terrorized by the infamous Christmas Phantom. 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6 and 7; 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 8. $15 general; $10 COD students. At Theatre Too on the College of the Desert campus, 43500 Monterey Ave., Palm Desert. 760-776-7370.

Published in Theater and Dance

Annenberg Theater

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

Avenue Q—from the Palm Canyon Theatre

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

Broadway in Drag

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

A Christmas Carol—from Theatre 29

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

CV Rep Luminary Luncheon: Tommy Tune

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

Exquisite Potential—from Dezart Performs

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

Indian Wells Theater/CSUSB Palm Desert Tribute Concerts

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

Irreversible—from Script2Stage2Screen

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

Lush!

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

Master Class—from Coachella Valley Repertory

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

Million Dollar Quartet

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

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

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

The Mousetrap—from Desert Theatreworks

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

Other Desert Cities—from the Palm Canyon Theatre

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

Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays

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

Published in Theater and Dance

The Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, or CV Rep to you, has launched its 2013-2014 season with Terrence McNally’s Master Class.

I was part of the very first audience of CV Rep’s new season. This little gem of a theater, located inside The Atrium in Rancho Mirage, tried out the idea of two “preview” shows before the grand opening. Not a bad idea. (The Independent would not normally review a preview performance, but we sent our November print edition to press before the grand opening. Therefore, the folks at CV Rep were kind enough to allow us to review the Wednesday-night preview.) CV Rep is also trying out a 7:30 curtain time, which, frankly, I love: 7 is too early, and 8 is so late, especially when you emerge from the theater in what feels like the middle of the night.

The open stage set which greets us, designed by Jimmy Cuomo, is charming. Stuart Fabel’s lighting is effective and creative. Aalsa Lee’s costumes are ideal. No changes needed here.

The play is set in 1971, at a “recital room” of Juilliard School, and Madame Maria Callas is going to teach a Master Class. We get to be the audience which is welcomed at such an event. Callas, at the time, was the most famous opera diva in the world, known for her tempestuous personality and style as much as her astonishing voice (which can reduce me to tears of awe within her first three notes).

But in the world of opera—whose mysterious, jealousy-ridden and colorful backstage we rarely see depicted in literature—the whispers have started: Is she losing her voice?

The role of Callas is a superhuman challenge for any actress, because of La Divina’s fame—and the circumstances which drove her to the top, both personal and historical. It’s also a challenge because of McNally’s script: It’s basically a two-hour monologue that demands emotional twists and turns you won’t believe. Marina Re plays Callas flawlessly, showing the naked pain, the unimaginable glory, the humiliation and despair, the obsessive perfectionism, and the dizzying excitement of her life—all on parade.

Her pronunciation of the many foreign languages which opera stars must command is very good. The gestures, facial expressions and body language fit. Her cheekbones are fabulous. She uses her eyes like Greeks do, and she moves like a once-overweight but now-thin woman. Re provides us with an astonishing amount of subtext.

How much of this is due to her interpretation of the role, and how much is due to the work of director Ron Celona? We’ll never know, but the results are stunning. Celona’s excellent work never calls attention to itself; every move is logical and natural—and this is the greatest compliment I can pay to a stage director.

The three innocent opera wannabes who have signed up for Maria Callas’ Master Class are absolutely delightful. Kara Masek plays Sophie; Mario Alberto Rios is Anthony; Nora Graham plays Sharon. These actors’ personal résumés go on for pages, and all three bring solid talents, serious training and surprisingly emotional interpretations to their roles. Opera, alas, is often filled with hackneyed gestures and stereotyped acting, leading to results that can be either hilarious or boring, but Callas demands Method-like research and deep thought from her students before even the first note is sung. The advice given to these aspirants by Callas is extremely worthwhile and important, and every serious performing-arts student could benefit from these teachings.

(Speaking of which: Some opera companies, in an attempt to educate that part of the audience that doesn’t speak the show’s foreign tongue, have set up an interpretive digitalized banner above the stage, which contains a running English translation. This has been met with mixed success. One of my friends attended an opera in which the chorus sang, over and over, a phrase which the banner assured the onlookers was: “We cry potatoes!”)

Steven Smith plays the role of Manny, the hapless piano accompanist who plays his music effortlessly and brings to the show another flavor—that of a steady working musician. Callas charms him, and then orders him around like a peasant; he bears both stoically. Michael Frank’s role of The Stagehand is played with more attitude, though he, too, is safe from La Divina’s storms, and he knows it.

We are overwhelmed by the gravitas and wisdom in McNally’s script—and by the emotional roller coaster through which Marina Re puts us. She recalls the height of Callas’ career at La Scala, and in the next minute, she is talking about having sex with the world’s richest (and power-mad, and abusive) man—and then she is a young girl again, an impoverished child in the middle of a war with nothing going for her but a fabulous voice and a burning determination to outwork anyone else. If you’re in the audience, you’ll need to brace yourself.

But do see this play, whether you’re a big opera buff, or you’ve never seen a live performance. Once you meet this volatile Maria Callas, you’ll never again fear a blonde valkyrie in metal breastplates.

Although the show I saw was a “preview,” all I can say is: Don’t change a thing.

Master Class, a production of the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, is performed at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 10. The theater is located at 69930 Highway 111, Suite 116, in Rancho Mirage. $40. For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Karen Carpenter—from the Palm Canyon Theatre

Margaret Simon moves to New Jersey, falls in love, enters sixth grade, joins an all-girl group, obsesses about bras and becomes a woman—all while singing the hits of the Carpenters. The play is loosely based on Judy Blume’s coming-of-age novel. 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 18, and Saturday, Oct. 19; 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 20. $25. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Frida—The Musical

This bio-musical about the life of world-famous painter Frida Kahlo shows the folklore, drama and tenderness of this exceptional woman, who endured the most intense physical and emotional pain. Its brought to the stage by a cast of 30 actors, singers and dancers; it ties together the music and popular culture that Frida valued so much. 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 25. $29 to $79. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

House of the Rising Son—from the Desert Rose Playhouse

Tom Jacobson’s play is a mysterious romance that evokes the steamy atmosphere of the French Quarter in New Orleans. The action centers on Dr. Trent Varro, who brings his younger lover, Felix, back to New Orleans to meet his wealthy relatives. Ghostly sightings and unexpected revelations follow. 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Oct. 27. $25 to $28. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Master Class—from Coachella Valley Repertory

Toward the end of her career, opera star Maria Callas taught master classes at Lincoln Center. In this play, by Terrence McNally, the audience gets to watch her in action with her students, as she reflects on her life and career. 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Wednesday, Oct. 23, through Sunday, Nov. 10. (Oct. 23 and 24 are previews.) $35 to $50. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

The Mousetrap—from Desert Theatreworks

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

The Sound of Music—from the Palm Canyon Theatre

The classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Oct. 4, through Sunday, Oct. 13. $32. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays

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

The Sudden Glide—from Script2Stage2Screen

This comedy, written by David A. Crespy, explores the life of a 60-something Southern-born actress, Yvonne Allaway, as she faces the toughest hurdle of her life—a fifth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, and she’s again pitted against Meryl Streep. On the way to the ceremony, she is given just enough coke and booze to throw her off her game—and make things very interesting. 7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 4, and Saturday, Oct. 5. $10. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, 72425 Via Vail, Rancho Mirage. 760-702-0062; www.script2stage2screen.com.

Vivien—from the Palm Canyon Theatre

The play offers a journey beyond Vivien Leigh’s triumphs into the madness that tortured her. She reflects on her tumultuous relationship with Laurence Olivier and her tragic battles with manic depression and tuberculosis. 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 25, and Saturday, Oct. 26; 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 27. $25. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

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

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

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

Desert Rose Playhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coachella Valley Repertory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More info at www.cvrep.org.

Dezart Performs

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

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

SIXTH ANNUAL PLAYREADING SERIES, April 11-19

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

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

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

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

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

Desert Theatreworks

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

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

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

THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL: March 14-23

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

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

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

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

Palm Canyon Theatre

THE SOUND OF MUSIC: Oct. 4-13

AVENUE Q: Nov. 8-17

SHREK: Dec. 6-22

LES MISERABLES: Jan. 24-Feb. 9

9 TO 5: Feb. 28-March 9

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR: April 4-20

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE: May 2-11

SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL: July 11-20

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

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

Published in Theater and Dance

For the Coachella Valley Repertory theater company, this season is all about tolerance.

“We live in a society that isn’t tolerant,” says Ron Celona, the CV Rep artistic director and the director of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, which opens Wednesday, Jan. 22, and runs through Sunday, Feb. 10.

That intolerance (undeniably a bad thing), combined with the increasing diversity in our not-so-little-anymore community (undeniably a good thing), led CV Rep to make tolerance the theme for the three adult plays (plus one children’s show) the company is presenting this season.

And how does Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks—a comedy by Richard Alfieri focusing on the widow of Southern Baptist minister and her gay dance teacher—fit into that theme?

“It brings up issues in the community that need to be addressed,” Celona says. “(The play) sort of pushes the tolerance of both of the characters.”

The woman, Lily Harrison (played by Bobbi Stamm), grew up in the South and has conservative, biblically rooted beliefs. The man, Michael Minetti (Sean Galuszka), came to Florida from New York City to take care of his mother; she has since died, and Michael feels stuck in Florida, an aging gay man trying to find his place in the world.

“They both have preconceived judgments about each other,” Celona says.

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks had a brief—four weeks, to be exact—stint on Broadway in 2003, with Polly Bergen and Mark Hamill in the lead roles. Six Dance Lessons has since been performed on stages large and small around the world.

Celona says the play was appealing to him because it’s a comedy that addresses tolerance, and was a nice fit in between CV Rep’s other two plays this season, both of which are more dramatic: Donald Margulies’ Collected Stories, which was onstage in October and November, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited, which opens in March.

In fact, the tension between Six Dance Lessons’ more dramatic elements and its comedic parts led to one of the biggest challenges for Celona as a director, he says.

“It was extra tricky to work around the very dramatic parts of the play, and to keep it a comedy,” says Celona, who had not seen a live version of the play before. “If I was not careful to choreograph and maneuver (through the more dramatic parts), it could have become a drama. We have to remind ourselves this is a comedy.”

He praised both of the actors for dedicating themselves so fully to the roles. Galuszka has been in a number of TV shows and films, including a large role in recent indie film Crossroad. Stamm has a background as a nightclub singer/comedian, with various stage and screen roles to her credit.

“When you have actors who are so committed to a role and the growth of a new company, it’s just so appreciated,” Celona says.

CV Rep is indeed one of the valley’s newer theatrical organizations, in its second year in its home at The Atrium in Rancho Mirage, Celona says. Celona, of course, thinks the future of CV Rep in the ever-diversifying Coachella Valley is bright.

“The time has come for a professional regional theater, where thriving, working artists can perform,” Celona says.

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks takes place at 8 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 10. Tickets are $40. The Coachella Valley Repertory theater is located at The Atrium, 69930 Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage. For tickets or more information, call 296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

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