CVIndependent

Tue06252019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The script is the star.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Theater and Dance

It’s time to wind down after the busy holiday season—and January is filled with some great shows to help you do just that.

The McCallum Theatre has some fine post-holiday events. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 14, Broadway and Hollywood icon Vanessa Williams will be appearing. Williams had the No. 1 single in 1992, “Save the Best for Last,” and went on to create other hits, such as “Love Is,” “Colors of the Wind” and “Where Do We Go From Here?” She’s also had a successful film career. Tickets are $57 to $97. At 8 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 18, another actor/singer will be performing: Rick Springfield. Springfield is best remembered for his run on General Hospital, and for his hit tune “Jessie’s Girl.” Springfield has fought alcoholism and depression, but has found sobriety and a healthy mindset within the last few years. Tickets are $37 to $87. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 27, author Garrison Keillor will be returning to the McCallum to share stories about his life growing up in the Midwest. Tickets are $47 to $97. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has a big show booked: At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 21, Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler (right) will be performing with The Loving Mary Band. It’s been said that Aerosmith might be bowing out of the game soon, and Tyler seems to enjoy performing solo, so it might just happen. Tickets are $165 to $215. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino is hosting some great comedy and music that’ll help you snap out of those holiday blues. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 13, Emmy and Grammy Award winner Kathy Griffin will be appearing. The comedienne, actress and best-selling humor writer is guaranteed to make you laugh. Tickets are $39 to $69. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 14, it’ll be a double Motown bill when The Temptations and the Four Tops stop by. While the groups are only touring with one original member each, the show should still be a good time. Tickets are $39 to $59. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 20, Terry Fator will be bringing his comedy-based puppet show to Fantasy Springs. Fator can be hilarious; one of my favorite puppets is an Elvis impersonator. In my own opinion, he’s funnier than Jeff Dunham. Tickets are $39 to $79. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Spotlight 29 has an event in January you won’t want to miss. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 21, jazz guitarist George Benson will be performing. While Benson is classified as a jazz guitarist, his music also includes funk and soul. He’s won 10 Grammy Awards throughout his career. Tickets are $55 to $75. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace has some fun shows on the docket. At 8 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 5, Los Angeles psychedelic-pop band Haunted Summer (below) will be returning—with local favorite The Flusters on the bill as well. Haunted Summer did some recording at Rancho de la Luna in 2015; hopefully we’ll see a new album soon. Admission is free. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 28, Los Angeles-based Americana band Moonsville Collective will be stopping by. Moonsville Collective has shared the stage with Old Crow Medicine Show, The White Buffalo, Wanda Jackson and Donavon Frankenreiter. Tickets are $10. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

The Date Shed has a couple of events about which you should take note. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 7, there will be a performance from Pato Banton. Banton, a London-based Reggae singer and DJ, has worked with Ranking Roger, UB40 and the Mad Professor. This should be a great show for reggae-lovers. Tickets are $15 to $20. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 21, West Covina-based rapper Mr. Capone-E will take the stage. He’s known for his collaboration in 2006 with Twista on the song “Don’t Get It Twisted.” Tickets are $25. The Date Shed, 50725 Monroe St., Indio; 760-775-6699; www.dateshedmusic.com.

The Purple Room has a busy schedule of events. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 6, check out The Buddy Holly Review. As a big fan of Buddy Holly myself, I’m excited about this one. It’s been said that this tribute band does not disappoint. Tickets are $25 to $30. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 14, Charles Herrera will be performing a show titled “There’s Always Room for Cello,” which will include guest Keisha D—as well as some of the best string musicians in the Coachella Valley! Tickets are $25 to $30. Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-322-4422; www.purpleroompalmsprings.com.

The local folks behind New W8ve Entertainment are kicking off a new night at The Beer Hunter. Symara Stone and Hannah Mills will perform on the patio at the first #W8vyWednesdays, starting at 4 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 11. Admission is free. The Beer Hunter, 78483 Highway 111, La Quinta; 760-564-7442; www.laquintabeerhunter.com.

Published in Previews

Bella da Ball is one of the valley’s most ubiquitous (in a good way) entertainers.

The hostess with the mostess can be found every Monday hosting Trivia Night at the Amigo Room at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club. (Full disclosure: The Independent usually has a strong contingent present at the Ace Trivia Night.) Every Tuesday, Bella hosts a Cabaret Variety Revue at Georgie’s Alibi Azul Patio. And since January, Bella has hosting a brand-new show each week—Lipstick Thursdays, at the Copa.

“It’s a high-energy, fun mix,” said Bella da Ball—whose alter ego is Brian Wanzek (or is it the other way around?)—about the 90-minute show. “It’s primarily drag, and there are vocalists who come in and do some numbers.”

Bella said the performers primarily work the main floor, rather than the Copa’s long stage, so they can get up-close and personal with the audience.

“It’s a fun, audience-participation type of thing,” she said. “People love the costumes, the headdresses, the sequins, and the props, like hula hoops and guitars.”

Whereas the long-running Tuesday show at Georgie’s Alibi features a variety of musical genres and multiple vocalists, Lipstick Thursdays at the Copa focus more on drag and contemporary pop music.

“It’s more high-energy, more in-your-face, and more of a party,” Bella said.

Even though drag is the focus at Lipstick Thursdays—regular performers include Marina Mac, Jersey Shore, Pinkie Meringue Shimmer (all of whom will perform on April 30), Sassy Ross, Rickie Lee and Cherilyn—vocalists are also a key part of the show, including a rotation among talents including Carol Kamenis, Keisha D. and Thursday, April 30, performer Charles Herrera.

Don’t let the drag focus fool you: Bella said Lipstick Thursdays draw a mixed crowd—even including corporate parties.

“They brought boas and light sticks, and were singing, and clapping, and dancing, and partying,” Bella said about a recent corporate group. “The vast majority of people who go out to shows can appreciate this. It’s music, drag, comedy and fun.”

Bella noted that in addition to happy-hour drink specials until 9 p.m., attendees can order pizzas from Tropicale, the Copa’s sister restaurant next door. She said she hosts a great show for people to enjoy before or after Palm Springs VillageFest, too.

“People can come and relax,” Bella said. “Everybody wants to get involved.”

Lipstick Thursdays take place at the Copa, 244 E. Amado Road, in Palm Springs. Doors open at 6 p.m., with an 8 p.m. show time; a DJ follows at 9:30. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-866-0021, or visit www.copapalmsprings.com.

Published in Local Fun