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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The first thing you should know about The House of the Rising Son: It’s mostly set in New Orleans, so immediately, you know there’s a grand capacity for weird.

The second thing you should know: The cast is all-male (well, there’s one female impersonator), and all play double roles in this strange play.

The third thing: Most theatergoers will find their eyebrows raised by this show, possibly more than once. Now at the Desert Rose Playhouse, the desert’s only LGBT theater, the play runs through Oct. 27.

The hard-working cast, under the firm directorial hand of Jim Strait, should be applauded, first of all, for learning the lines of this talky play—but, of course, they bring much more to the show. Courage, for example—and you’ll know what I mean when you hear the audience gasp.

John Ferrare plays Trent, a parasitologist giving a lecture in Los Angeles. Jeff Rosenberg is Felix, an audience member and employee of the museum where the talk is being presented. Long story short: They fall for each other, and Trent takes Felix home to New Orleans to meet his family. So we meet Garrett, played by Terry Huber, who is Trent’s father; we also meet his grandfather, Bowen, played by Garnett Smith. All is not what it seems with this woman-free family. (“All dead,” Garrett solemnly reports.)

The casting is excellent, and all four gentlemen look their part. The ominous air that hangs over the show is fed by references to ghosts, family trees and, of course, several chunks from Trent’s erudite lectures about parasites, accompanied by some rather ewwww graphics and yucky descriptions of their behavior. Remember the word “parasites,” and see how it echoes.

The exquisite lighting by Phil Murphy complements the ingenious set design of Jon Triplett, which through the play continues to spread to other venues. Clever!

Yet there is a fatal flaw that Desert Rose must address: They have built a hollow stage. Each footstep sounds like a drum—and there are plenty of footsteps. Part of the floor is carpeted, but that doesn’t help much. This is not an uncommon problem in regional theater, alas, but it is distracting, and it can actually compromise an audience’s hearing of the dialogue.

The play offers a couple of laughs, and one fascinating monologue about the history of homosexuality in the 20th century. The underlying theme is not the acceptance of gays, but the value they have contributed to society. The argument is presented as yet another lecture, which gives it a gravitas it would lack if it was merely a conversation between the characters.

The role that shines is, interestingly, that of Grandpa, the outrageous old curmudgeon. Smith eats it up, flailing around the stage, cussing and drinking and loathing everybody—as he feels his age has given him the right to do. But the balance among the cast is to be admired, and each actor brings powerful strengths to his role. Felix is cute and young; Garrett is mysterious and quiet; Trent is brilliant and searching.

Whether you love the play, or are merely shocked by it, you’ll admit: It is never dull. Tom Jacobson’s two-act script moves the story along beautifully, with new plot revelations throughout. The play doesn’t really move you, however.

Producer Paul Taylor chose this show to open the Desert Rose’s new season, which runs through next June—and will include one world premiere. I like this comfortable theater, with its splashy wall art, its stairs (they give a slightly exciting speakeasy feel to the entryway), its friendliness, and the fact that there are no long lines for the ladies’ room at intermission. But most of all, I like the Desert Rose for its brave commitment to presenting shows that you won’t see anywhere else.

House of the Rising Son plays at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Oct. 27, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 69620 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $28, or $25 for Sunday matinees. For tickets or more information, call at 760-202-3000, or visit www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

The eyebrow-raising title alerts: This is probably not just another cabaret show. And then playwright-actor-singer-lyricist-dancer David Pevsner proves it isn't.

Making its world premiere at the Desert Rose Playhouse, Musical Comedy Whore escorts us into another world. The one-act, one-man show is the season’s closer for Desert Rose. (Artistic director Jim Strait opens the evening with a description of the company’s history and the shows on tap next season, which begins on Sept. 27.)

Pevsner pops onto the stage wearing a plain green T-shirt and old jeans. Gasp—is he not even wearing makeup? Where is the razzmatazz and glitter of “musical comedy” that we’ve come to expect? Good heavens—he hasn’t even touched up his graying hair! What are we in for?

The answer to that question: raw honesty. Pevsner is here to tell us about his life—unvarnished, unretouched, unpardoned. He neither whines nor makes excuses nor assigns blame, as he begins with his childhood and guides us through the tales of his sexual experiences, all while using song and dance. There are no props, no costume changes—nothing but his narrative. Talented pianist Patrick Karst (perhaps you’ve seen him at Spencer’s) kicks in with occasional vocal harmonies, but other than that, this is simply one man’s barefaced story of growing up gay in America. Yes, there are plenty of four-letter words and explicit descriptions, but Pevsner’s focus on the truth makes us realize that the story could be told in no other way.

The excellent lighting by Phil Murphy, the slick stage management of Steve Fisher, and the shrewd direction by Randy Brenner make for a smooth and professional production. The show’s lyrics were penned by Pevsner, with a host of contributors of original music.

We watch Pevsner work without a break, or so much as a sip of water, for a solid 90 minutes—an awesome task from which young cabaret aspirants could learn much about work ethics. He leads us through the tale of his strange, scary and sometimes dangerous sexual adventures.

Already I can hear people thinking: “Yes, but do we need to know this? TMI?” Even Pevsner anticipates this, and with a shrug, he admits that the show is written as much for himself as for us.

Which brings us to: How many of us are capable of standing on a bare stage and recounting our most intimate moments to a live audience? This immediately re-focuses our perspective: Out of the 333 million people in America, how many could perform such a show? This realization makes Musical Comedy Whore a very rare experience. When you see the show, realize—whether or not it makes you squirm—that you are in the presence of unflinching honesty from a brave and fearless writer-performer.

The cozy, year-old LGBT and gay-friendly Desert Rose Playhouse is located in the Commissary, on Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage. The natural acoustics are so marvelous that Pevsner performs without amplification; what a relief it is to be spared the ear-splitting volume and annoying feedback so common nowadays.

I only wish that the charming managing director, Paul Taylor, could somehow rake the seating so that visibility everywhere is equal. Getting stuck behind a couple of large heads can compromise one’s appreciation. However, the theater’s energy is beautiful, warm and satisfying, and the chairs are comfortable.

You’ll probably leave the show with many mixed feelings … but could you do what you just watched Pevsner do?

Musical Comedy Whore is performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, June 16, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, at The Commissary, 69620 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $25, and the show runs 90 minutes without an intermission. For tickets or more info, call 760-202-3000, or visit www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Being a brand-new startup sometimes has its advantages. Just ask the folks at the Desert Rose Playhouse.

The next play on the boards for the LGBT and gay-friendly company—British playwright Joe Orton’s controversial (during its debut in 1964, at least) Entertaining Mr. Sloane—was originally slated to open this week. But the play wasn’t quite ready, so artistic director Jim Strait and managing director Paul Taylor decided to push the opening back a week. Then came a last-minute casting change, so Strait and Taylor decided to delay the opening yet another week: The show is now scheduled to debut on Friday, March 1.

“We’re determined not to put up a show unless it’s up to a certain standard,” Strait says.

Of course, an established company could never do what the Desert Rose has done—at least not without upsetting season-ticket holders and sponsors.

“We have no subscribers,” Strait says. “So our schedule is our own.”

That flexibility allowed the Desert Rose’s inaugural show, Dirty Little Showtunes—a gay-themed musical revue/comedy that debuted in San Francisco and features … well, dirty little showtunes—to enjoy a nearly unprecedented run.

“It opened on July 21, and we were going to do four shows per week for seven weeks,” Strait explains. “Well, people kept coming to it.”

So Desert Rose kept extending the play. It finally closed as 2012 closed, after an amazing 24-week run.

“It kept going,” Strait says. “It wasn’t always profitable, but it was always fun.”

After a recently concluded four-week run of Stephen Sondheim’s Marry Me a Little will come Entertaining Mr. Sloane.

“It’s a very early gay play,” says Strait. “Joe Orton was of the bad boys of British theater. He only wrote five plays before his lover killed him with a hammer. … Audiences in the West End were just aghast (at the play).”

The play focuses on a middle-aged woman named Kath, who takes in a young man named Mr. Sloane. Kath’s father immediately dislikes Sloane; meanwhile, Kath begins to take a sexual interest in Sloane. And so does her brother, Ed.

Strait compares the piece to “Britcoms” like Are You Being Served? and Keeping Up Appearances.

“It’s not Ozzie and Harriet,” he says while emphasizing that the play is not that dirty, and is appropriate for all audiences.

Ryan Dominguez, who performed in Desert Rose’s Dirty Little Showtunes, recently joined the cast as Mr. Sloane. Valorie Armstrong plays Kath, and Hal O’Connell plays Ed. Another Showtunes performer, Terry Huber, plays the father of Ed and Kath.

Strait concedes that the play is not the easiest show to produce. It features a fair amount of unfamiliar British slang. And then there’s the play’s length.

“It’s a three-act play, with two intermissions,” he says. “It’s a serious evening of theater.”

After the abbreviated nine-show run, the Desert Rose will produce The Boys in the Band, before concluding the company’s first season with a yet-to-be-determined show.

It’s been an up-and-down journey for the Desert Rose, which was founded by Strait and Taylor—two theater veterans—in 2010 in an effort to fill the void after another LGBT company, the Thorny Theatre, closed. They started raising money, and planned on taking over a Cathedral City building as the Desert Rose’s home. However, the election and the competition for charity dollars with other local causes led to a slowdown in donations; meanwhile, code changes meant the building they wanted was in need of more bathrooms.

Therefore, Strait and Taylor switched courses and found The Commissary in Rancho Mirage, and rented it out last year. They moved in to the spot in May, and converted it into a showroom. Then came their Desert Rose’s first full show, Dirty Little Showtunes, and the rest, as they say, is history.

While Strait and Taylor are still seeking donations, and keeping their eyes open for a permanent home for Desert Rose, Strait says they’re happy to be focusing on theater.

“This is pretty much a grassroots kind of thing,” he says. “It’s really quite charming.”

The Desert Rose Playhouse will perform Entertaining Mr. Sloane, barring any further schedule changes, at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, March 1, through Sunday, March 17. Tickets are $25, and shows take place at The Commissary, 69620 Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage. For tickets or more information, call 202-3000, or visit www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

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