CVIndependent

Fri12152017

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Valerie-Jean (VJ) Hume

With Thanksgiving and Black Friday out of the way, our thoughts turn to the Christmas season—and one of the special seasonal events in our valley is always Desert Rose Playhouse’s ever-innovative holiday production. This year, the choice is Charles Busch’s Times Square Angel.

Set in New York (and heaven, do you mind), it visits Manhattan in 1948—a wild postwar world of swinging nightclubs, famous restaurants, jazz and a night life that goes on until dawn. The underbelly of the town contains a second world of mobsters and molls, gambling and gunplay, cheesy shows and characters … and that’s where we find ourselves, with everyone speaking thick Manhattan-ese.

Understand that everything in this light-hearted comedy is over the top—you will find no subtle gritty-realism method acting here. It’s all for fun and for the effect, and producer Paul Taylor has assembled a cast that fully comprehends this.

The show stars the extraordinary Loren Freeman as Irish O’Flanagan, a carrot-topped nightclub singer whose miserly, selfish and mean-spirited ways earn her some flashback visits to the past, plus a glimpse of her destined future, courtesy of a guardian angel. (I know, I know—you’re already seeing the parallels with Scrooge.) The angel, Albert, is played by Robbie Wayne, who has been named a “DRP artistic associate” for his ever-growing and varied list of jobs with the group, including creating the choreography for this “musical pastiche.” As Albert, he’s a slick, pinstripe-suited and smart-mouthed former performer in trouble with God for a batch of heavenly infractions who is facing expulsion to Hades. He bargains to get back into God’s Good Books by agreeing to go down to Earth and trying to convert Irish into a being who is also worthy of admission to heaven. Which, as you’ve guessed, she currently is not.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the lead actor in this show. Everything turns on Irish O’Flanagan’s magnetism and believability, as she is in almost every scene. Loren Freeman, with his astonishing aquamarine eyes, resonant foghorn bass voice and shapely legs, brings an arsenal of skills and talents more than equal to this task. (In fact, this entire show features many great gams, both male and female—if the Desert Theatre League ever creates a category for Best Legs, this show is the, umm, hands-down winner.) A consummate professional, Freeman actually takes a pass on opportunities to react when another actor is speaking, knowing that if he does, it would draw the audience’s eye away to him … yet when he does react, it’s flawless. His New York accent is perfect, and in that whisky-baritone voice, he relishes rolling his mouth around the script’s 1940s street-slang—like “a clop on the chops,” “doll,” “jawboning” and “stooge.” Even as Irish blusters and struts, we see the vulnerability beneath the surface, and when she sings, it can break your heart. It’s a case of absolutely perfect casting.

DRP seems close to forming its own repertory company with the return to the boards of such favorite actors as Terry Huber, Cat Lyn Day, Michael Pacas, Melanie Blue and Kam Sisco. Also included are some welcome new faces: Ruth Braun, James Owens and Karen Schmitt. A growing company is a healthy company, and they all get to fill the stage and show off their versatility by playing a delicious variety of multiple roles. Parker Tenney plays The Voice of God, which might surprise you.

There were a couple of understandable first-night fumbles and misfortunes, and in some places, the timing was a little bit off, but knowing Jim Strait, this will be fixed by the time you see the show. And some of the accents need work—they’re a little muddy. There were a couple of bewildering moments, possibly because of some anachronisms in the costumes and the music, but for “heaven’s” sake, who cares?

Among my favorite moments were Huber’s touching solo; some of the terrific quick changes; Sisco’s hilarious portrait of a drunken former Vaudeville star from back when drunks were still funny; extra touches like the antlers; some lovely harmonies; several moments of exquisite timing; and the expression “a case of the dismals,” which will promptly be absorbed into everyone’s current vocab. The first-night audience must have agreed, because they broke into spontaneous applause during and between the scenes. The 95-minute play is performed without an intermission, just in case your kidneys might want to know in advance.

The production is designed and directed by DRP’s founding artistic director, Jim Strait. He and Paul Taylor unabashedly adore Christmas, wearing outrageous Yuletide garb to welcome the playgoers. How refreshing is this? It makes you want to rush home and get out your Christmas decorations.

Playwright Charles Busch—whose name you will remember from other DRP productions including Vampire Lesbians of Sodom/Coma—frankly admits A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life as inspirations for Times Square Angel, along with the gangster movies of the ’40s, with those tough-talking chorus girls and thugs found in places like this show’s gaudy Club Intime.

Musical director Joel Baker has pre-recorded the accompaniment music, which mixes styles such as doo-wop, blues, gospel and, of course, some good old Christmas songs everyone knows. (You DO know “Mele Kalikimaka” in Hawaiian, right? Because they sing it here.)

Regarding the aforementioned repertory, returning costume director Mark Demry (who delights us with two-tone spectator shoes, perky hats and nostalgic fur stoles) and hair stylist Toni Molano (the wigs are hugely important in this show … though some are a bit weird) are again joined by the incomparable Phil Murphy as lighting director, whose contribution makes this his 49th show for DRP. Steve Fisher is the stage manager once again. How pleasant for this company to be able to rely on the same tried-and-true talents for every production!

This play is fun. It will make you feel good. It will infuse you with Christmas spirit. You will want to immediately rush home and dust off the Christmas tree lights—and maybe it will even inspire you to give Christmas gifts of theater tickets or even season subscriptions, thereby giving ideal presents to everyone!

Times Square Angel is performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Dec. 17, at Desert Rose Playhouse, 69620 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $34 to $37. For tickets or more information, call 760-202-3000, or visit www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

The Coachella Valley Repertory Company has opened its new season with Venus in Fur. It’s a two-person, one-act show with no intermission—and it will knock your socks off.

It opened off-Broadway in 2010 and moved to Broadway in 2011; it was nominated for two 2012 Tony Awards, including Best Play. It’s currently running in the West End of London; Berlin; and … Rancho Mirage!

Director Ron Celona declared that the timing could not be more perfect for this play, due to the recent sexual-harassment scandals. It is set “today” (the cell-phone styles instantly reveal the era), and the show is about an actress auditioning for an unusual play set in 1870. She is facing a male playwright … a situation that puts us on edge right from the start, fearing the possibility of some sort of ghastly Harvey Weinstein-ian casting-couch calamity. A thunderstorm rages overhead, adding to the tension. The playwright is exhausted and disgusted after a fruitless day of tryouts, and the actress is late for her reading, soaked from the rain and furious. What could possibly go wrong?

Venus in Furs playwright David Ives, a Yale grad living in New York, has crafted an extraordinary work with this play. He’s most famous for his one-act plays, and garnered awards and honors for many of them. He has also created full-length plays, plus adaptations of both musicals and 17th- and 18th-century French plays. Here, multilayered and mercurial changes keep us off balance throughout, as we learn the playwright’s play is about the infamous 19th-century Austrian, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whom we have to thank for—you guessed it—masochism.

They say that the second you meet another person, there is a huge amount of psychic information exchanged about which person will control what in the impending relationship. Through this play-within-a-play, we deal with domination, submission, power plays, struggles, acceptance and rebellion. We see lies come to light. We see roles reversed. Sometimes, we don’t know what we’re seeing.

The actress, Vanda, is played by Angela Sauer, whose bouncy auburn hair sets off a beautiful face that shifts endlessly with her astonishing variety of emotions. You can’t take your eyes off her … not just because of the garters and lacy lingerie and black stockings and high heels, but because of her rapid switches from one personality to another. She snaps in and out of character: now a cranky actress and next a demanding director and then a radiant goddess Aphrodite and now a haughty countess and suddenly a smoldering dominatrix. Her vocal talents will surprise you—she gives each of her roles a special voice, with pitch, volume, speed, placement and even regional accents changing.

In contrast, Patrick Zeller—perfectly cast as the tightly wound playwright Thomas—internalizes and suppresses much of his emotions, though he never fails to let us know what he is thinking and feeling. He’s a thinking actor, whose subtleties provide the perfect foil for the high-energy and colorful Vanda. He morphs through his different roles, managing to be equally believable in each one. The abrupt switches of power between the characters catch us off guard every time, but Zeller rides every wave with ease. He is pitch-perfect in every complex part that he plays.

Ron Celona, also CV Rep’s founding artistic director, modestly credits the actors rather than his own directing skills for the success of this play. “They are smart and talented,” he said. “And sexy!” His steady directorial hand is evident, nonetheless, in the exquisite visual balance he maintains on this one-set stage. But it is the tension between the actors that is the most impressive part of this play. The undeniable chemistry between them increases unbearably as Celona gradually tightens the screws, making it impossible for us to guess what lies ahead. No director could have done more with the atmosphere … and when a completely unexpected plot twist occurs, we are suckered in helplessly. We know we will never be safe watching this play.

Jimmy Cuomo’s set is simply designed, offering an ideal backdrop for the crackling energy onstage. He uses a palette of grays to contrast with the lightning and thunder storm viewed through the high windows, which echoes the electricity between the two characters. The set screams “crummy old lower East Side New York.” An innocent daybed sits center stage, making us nervous with its unspoken possibilities.

Moira Wilkie Whitaker gets credit for that lightning and thunder, along with Randy Hansen, the sound designer. Not an easy assignment! Add rain, and some finely timed effects, and you’ll see they had their work cut out for them.

Julie Oken’s costume design deserves a special mention, not the least of which was finding that bustier and those really high stiletto-heeled boots for Vanda to waltz around in … and those little S&M touches. Linda Shaeps’ hair and makeup design is, as usual, lovely, but what is especially astonishing is how Vanda’s makeup stayed on with everything she went through in this show. HOW? Audiences want to know, Miss Linda!

This is not a play for the faint of heart. It poses a lot of relationship questions and looks at social issues from both sides, causing us to examine our own deep-seated thoughts and beliefs. It brings us face to face with inequalities and prejudices and stuck ideas that still exist today. It peers beneath our surfaces to find what lies hidden far beneath. It is fascinating and confusing and a little scary, and there isn’t one dull moment in the entire show.

So gather your courage, and go see Venus in Fur. Besides, how often do you get to see a girl in garters?

Venus in Fur is performed at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 19, at the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, 69930 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $53, and the show runs just more than 90 minutes, with no intermission. There is no show on Tuesday, Oct. 31. For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit cvrep.org.

It’s a brilliant idea for a one-set play.

A.R. Gurney’s Later Life, now bring produced by Coachella Valley Repertory in Rancho Mirage, takes the tiniest slice of life and expands it into universal lessons, just as Gurney expands the four-person cast into a dozen characters in the show. It’s a terrific concept, and producer Ron Celona has invited guest director Luke Yankee to mastermind it.

Here it is: It’s 1993, and two people who were once briefly involved find each other, years later, at a party in Boston. They are out on the huge balcony away from the noise, where it’s easier to talk. As they discuss their long-ago relationship, other partygoers drift out into their space and interrupt with their own issues. The really interesting thing is that these 10 guests are played by just two other performers! It’s a golden opportunity for these two character actors to show off their versatility.

Playwright A.R. Gurney is the author of Love Letters (which I’ve seen four times). It’s an extraordinary play, and there is nothing else like it. Same with The Cocktail Hour and The Dining Room, and now Later Life. He is famous for plays about upper-class WASPs; we find that although their problems might be different from those of others, they are quite serious. Gurney’s mastery of dialogue removes the theater’s “fourth wall” and deeply involves the audience in their stories. The extraordinary feat of writing in Later Life is that Gurney gives each character his or her own voice—and I mean all of them: The 10 character roles each have personalities and appearances so wildly different from one another that if an audience isn’t alerted to this, they might believe there really are 12 different people in the cast. There aren’t many plays that give actors this kind of opportunity (though it happened to me last year when I played five roles in a play!). It’s important that the audience appreciates the extraordinary work being done here—and enjoys the fun of it.

Guest-director Luke Yankee has a stunning resume that speaks for itself—and he has tackled the challenge of Later Life with zest. The 90-minute show’s pace is brisk, despite the restrictions of one set and one act. (There’s no intermission—a great choice! It would have totally destroyed the timing.) His firm guiding hand is evident in the body language and the impressive variety displayed by the character actors as they morph from one role into another.

The play centers around Austin, played by William Fair, whom we meet immediately. The onion-layers of Austin peel away gradually throughout the play, revealing more and more of him and creating surprises right up to the very last second of the show. Our first suspicions of stereotype crumble away as he gradually reveals an unexpectedly complex and conflicted inner life. William Fair keeps us wondering as he juggles Austin’s instinctive self-protection along with his co-dependency and his longing to burst free from his shell.

Ruth is the lady who knew him Back When, and actress Barbara Niles achieves a sympathetic portrayal of a woman whose steel-trap memory contrasts with multiple mental games of, “What If?” as well as a huge need to be accepted and liked. Ruth combines her wounded past with a brave determination to be happy in the future; her struggles are thickly slathered over with what some will see as courage, and others will perceive as a dumb resistance to learning from her history. Niles gives us a deep portrait of a lovely, if sometimes exasperating, lady.

Gorgeous Teri Bibb plays five female roles who contrast wildly. We first see her as Sally, the party’s hostess—sweet and efficient, looking like a model in a women’s magazine. Next she is Marion, an older lady and the frustrated wife of the irrepressible Roy. Then she turns up as socialite Nancy, a sleek and stylish mystery lady who has just been dumped by her companion. As Esther McAlister, an aging Southern belle whose lively attitude makes her a perfect match for her fun-loving husband, she is trying to adjust to the culture shock of moving North across the Mason-Dixon Line. And as working-musician and personal friend Judith, she becomes a thin, tense and tightly wound redhead. She is beautiful in every role.

But it is Joel Bryant who knocks us out with his five male characters. His transformation from one role to the next is so complete that he is unrecognizable every time he comes through the door. He starts us off with an astonishing portrayal of a philosophy professor desperately trying to quit smoking. Then he transmogrifies into Roy, the cranky but feisty old bird driving his wife nuts. Next he changes into Duane, a nerdy computer whiz whose crackling internal energy (watch his blood pressure!) is about one minute away from a massive explosion. Then he switches to become Ted McAlister, an outgoing silver fox from the South with a charming interest in his fellow man and a sweet sort of breezy innocence. Last, he becomes Walt, a squash-obsessed Bostonian who is the loyal best friend of Austin, in a performance so completely realized that you will swear you know this guy. It is amazing work by Joel Bryant; I predict awards.

Let’s talk about the gorgeous set, another triumph from CV Rep’s award-winning resident set designer, Jimmy Cuomo. The beautiful, sophisticated decor sets us up for a fancy party overlooking Boston’s famous harbor, with the city’s tall buildings as a backdrop. The open stage features a patio with one door leading back into the house. Coming from there, we hear muted sounds of music and chatter; kudos to sound designer Terence Davis for keeping the background noise at the appropriate level where it’s heard, but does not not interfere with these conversations. Not easy—but the balance is excellent. Karen Goodwin, the assistant stage manager and sound tech, shares in these finely tuned choices. The clever contributions of stage manager and lighting designer Moira Wilkie Whitaker are perfectly correct for this play, as are Aalsa Lee’s 1993-era costumes, reminding us of the colors and styles worn “way back” then. Production manager and associate designer Doug Morris contributed his talents and keen eyes to this show, while the incomparable Lynda Shaeps designed the makeup and hair styles; wait until you see her amazing work that transforms the character actors. Selene Rodriguez assists with Shaeps’ hair and makeup effects with great results.

Ron Celona’s production of this “dramedy” could not be better. It shows a huge amount of thought, and fascinating results. You will never see anything else like it—so make sure you do see it!

Later Life is performed at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, May 21, at Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, 69930 Highway 111, Suite 116, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $48. For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

Dezart Performs’ description of Chapatti, now playing at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, includes one actor, one actress, one dog and … HOW MANY cats? Oh, my aching allergies!

Of course, they don’t have actual cats on stage … remember that expression about “herding cats”? They’d be all over the room. And even a dog is … well, an unreliable performer. So fear not, my fellow feline-allergy sufferers: All the animals are mimed in this show. However, with great names like Prudence, Salvadore and Indiana, they seem very much alive and real. Chapatti is also a dog, named after an East Indian dish—and you’ll find out why in the play.

And you’re going to love it—the play, that is: Chapatti is the surprise of the season, a two-person show that will reach even the most hard-hearted, cynical, world-weary, super-sophisticated audience. It is an emotional shocker that only the Irish could create … and I can’t imagine any other two actors than Dana Hooley and Dale Morris playing these roles. Set in modern-day Dublin, Chapatti reaches deeply into the lives of two ordinary working-class people and their pets.

The author, Christian O’Reilly, has created a most masterful script. Just when you think you know everything about these two characters, he drops a bomb, and then another, and then another that changes everything, making the characters ever more complex and infinitely more precious. O’Reilly has brilliantly brought to life two characters you will never forget. He reminds us how much pain is hidden in most people, and how much our wounds define us. How often do we rush to judgment about people without knowing their full story? This play teaches us to look deeper before reaching conclusions. It’s a lesson worth remembering.

O’Reilly also gives us some very interesting information about pets. Having recently adopted an African spurred tortoise, we were most eager to learn these nuggets of wisdom, which hopefully apply to all creatures great and small.

Michael Shaw’s direction is perfect. He craftily unfolds the pace and intensity of the script so that we are rapt for the full 90 minutes. You can’t take your eyes off these actors because of the play’s flawless rhythm. You won’t consciously notice it, but you’ll sure feel it. The actors’ moves are minimalized and thoroughly motivated, and the blocking gets full marks.

Part of the reason for that lovely rhythm goes to the amazing lighting by Phil Murphy, who has truly surpassed his own genius with this work. He focuses the attention exactly where it’s needed, and as a result, the sweeps from one location to another are not just efficient, but enhancing. The rich colors are glorious, and I particularly loved his “warm” lighting when it was used.

Yet more kudos go to the set designer, Thomas Valach. His creation of a multi-use stage works magnificently with the lighting and the direction to create a variety of locales that blend smoothly and effortlessly. He expands the stage into a teahouse, a graveyard, a veterinarian’s office, a dark and lonely bachelor’s apartment, and a home overrun with cats—all seamlessly. I particularly loved the invisibly supported window.

But the actors! Let’s talk about the performances of Dale Morris and Dana Hooley. First, they have chosen to use that lilt in their voices that defines Irish speech, rather than affecting heavy accents—an interesting choice which works and makes every word understandable. Second, these are not gorgeous Hollywood-glamour types or dazzling feature-perfect TV stars. These actors look their parts: two simple people of humble means whose working life is now behind them. Everyday people, I guess they could be called. Great casting! Yet their spirits rise to make them so very special—and you will find them fascinating. Third, the script is nonstop verbiage composed of monologues or conversations, and the body of work is a feat of memorization—which these actors breeze through without breaking stride. The variety of emotions they, and we, experience are as many as The Emerald Isle’s famous 40 shades of green. We were not prepared to be so moved by these very skilled performers, and the experience is one that will captivate you. Bring a hanky.

Let’s also praise the work of Diane McClure, the production and stage manager; Jim Lapidus the costume designer (who has a surprise of his own up his “sleeve” in the final scenes); and Clark Duggar, a producer who also designed the sound.

Shaw tells us that Dezart is “moving on” and beginning to look for a new home of their own as the company concludes its ninth season of shows in the Coachella Valley. The Desert Theatre League has bestowed 147 nominations and 55 awards on Dezart, which has mounted four world premieres.

Afterward, I came home to hug my tortoise.

Chapatti, a production of Dezart Performs, is performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, April 9, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. The play is 90 minutes long, with no intermission, and tickets are $25 to $30. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit www.dezartperforms.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, off you go to the theater to see Loretta Swit. The question in your subconscious, or even in the forefront of your mind, has to be: Am I going to spend the evening with Maj. Houlihan?

Hey, she played the iconic role for an incredible 11 years. You know her. You have watched her for hours of your life. You have suffered with her, howled at her outrageous comedy and grown with her. You know Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan better than certain members of your own family. Even though it’s been decades since M*A*S*H originally aired, there are DVDs and endless reruns on TV, so she is always with you.

The endlessly creative Coyote StageWorks has brought her to the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum for Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks. So here you sit, breathlessly waiting, this giant unspoken question in your head.

Here’s the answer: Loretta Swit delivers! No, you will not spend the evening with Hot Lips. Swit proves herself to be the ultimate actress, transforming herself completely into Lily Harrison for this play, and making you forget all about that military nurse.

There’s nothing that fills the seats of a theater like the appearance of a celebrity, and Loretta Swit’s name, plus the proven reliability of Coyote to deliver stellar shows, brought out a bustling audience for opening night. If you want to exhaust yourself, read through the dizzying credits in the program, where everyone associated with the production lists their phenomenal career successes, educations, awards and honors. Whew.

Produced by the always-amazing Chuck Yates, Coyote’s founding artistic director, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks will captivate you with its terrific music, the tension between the two actors, the witty dialogue and its quirky creativity. The director, Larry Raben, is a co-founder of Coyote who has masterminded many of their shows. Direction for this show had to be a challenge, as one setting with two characters doesn’t give one a lot of variety to work with. However, Raben has managed to mine opportunities everywhere. We won’t go into detail for fear of ruining the surprises for you, but we promise you’ll be really delighted.

Co-starring with Swit is the superb David Engel as Michael Minetti, the dance instructor. Also a co-founder of Coyote, he smoothly and skillfully glides through his multifaceted role with apparent ease. Lily has hired Michael to teach her to dance with private lessons at her home, but despite his breeziness and jokes, the two lock horns immediately—and the relationship nearly craters at the start. The dialogue turns snarky. She fires him. That’s obviously not the end of the play; the complexity of their relationship is aggravated by old baggage, scars and some outright lies. Add politics, pain and some prejudice, and watch what happens. The two strut and stumble and grope their way through the choreography of their strange friendship … which is contrasted with the dance styles that they explore weekly, from Viennese waltz to cha-cha to tango and beyond. Engel is beautifully cast here.

Playwright Richard Alfieri has created an unforgettable script. A Floridian himself, he sets the action in a St. Pete’s Beach high-rise condo, and then creates two characters whose worlds would otherwise be unlikely to intersect. This play has been translated into 14 languages, and has been performed in 24 countries. It opened at the Belasco on Broadway; in Los Angeles, it starred Uta Hagen; his self-penned screenplay starred Gena Rowlands. Now Loretta Swit plans to tour in it! Nothing succeeds like success.

Let’s talk about Loretta Swit and her transformation into this role. Lily is an older character, but, of course, so is Swit, now 79. So how did she transmogrify into Lily from the role we all know so well? She gives us a master class in acting. First, vocal quality: Her voice is different because of her breathing, which changes everything. Lily speaks in short puffs, fragmenting her sentences into strings of phrases. Anyone over retirement age will tell you that your lungs can indeed change as your years progress, and Swit shrewdly uses this. Next, although she is still slim and youthful in appearance, we see that her very energy is changed, depleted, giving her posture the impression of advancing years. Her gestures, too, are different—here, she is more fluttery and feminine, a far cry from her severe portrayal of Houlihan. Physical changes include different hair (a rather heavy look, with bangs hiding or shadowing half of her face), and signs of aging such as dry skin, which she dismisses with self-deprecating humor. We view a lot more of her profile than of her full face, but Swit certainly knows her way around a punch line, no matter in which direction she is gazing.

Yates has chosen his staff with care, and the results are pleasingly wonderful, due to stage manager Diane David, scenic designer Josh Clabaugh, and Moira Wilkie’s scenic elements and lighting design (whose set earned instant applause at the first curtain), as well as the costumes of Bonnie Nipar. They all share in the compliment of a standing ovation at the show’s end.

Any problems? Not really, because the few little first-night stumbles will be ironed out by the time you see this play. Swit’s tight black cocktail dress revealed the outline of the microphone battery’s fanny pack, giving her a lumpy side view; perhaps it could be covered with a light jacket (or as they say in warm climes, “a little sweater”)? Other than these barely-worth-mentioning points, Six Dance Lessons is a show with which everyone can identify, and it is marvelous. There are laughs aplenty, counterpointed with some painful shocks and surprises. You will be charmed, moved and touched by the final scene.

At the Annenberg, you’ll always be treated to comfortable seats and most excellent sound quality—basics not present in every venue. Add this to the fabulous experience of the play itself, and you’ll treasure the experience of seeing Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.

And there won’t be an Army major in sight.

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, a production of Coyote StageWorks, is performed at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Friday, Saturday; and 2 p.m., Thursday and Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $45 to $60. For tickets or more information, call 760-325-4490, or visit www.coyotestageworks.org.

What actor wouldn’t want to have a play called Vampire Lesbians of Sodom included on one’s resume? From the moment I heard this show was coming to the Desert Rose Playhouse, the valley’s LGBT theater company, I couldn’t wait to see it.

Director Jim Strait and producer Paul Taylor have chosen a play with one of the longest-ever Off-Broadway runs for their annual salute to gay heritage theater. Who doesn’t love a success story? This play opened with plans for just one weekend—and it turned into a five-year run! Strait informed me that he has wanted to do this play for 30 years; read on, and you’ll understand why.

Written by Charles Busch, this outrageous show actually consists of two one-acts: Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Sleeping Beauty, or Coma. (It’s important to distinguish thd latter one from the “other” Sleeping Beauty, lest suburban matrons mistakenly show up at the theater door with eager 6-year-olds.)

VLOS is the story of two rival ladies, beginning in the ancient city of Sodom—which you’ll remember was supposed to be, oh, you know, the most depraved city ever in the entire world. Both gals are immortal vampires who repeatedly cross paths on their 2,000-year journey, starting in Sodom at a pagan sacrifice, appearing next in Hollywood in the 1920s, and last in present-day Las Vegas.

SBOC starts off in the swingin’ ’60s of London. Who could forget it? Miniskirts, the Beatles, Twiggy, the Frug, bell bottoms, the Rolling Stones, Carnaby Steet, etc. This is exactly when the theatrical style of revue began. SBOC echoes its snappy style, with actors playing multiple roles, running gags, quick changes, satire, broad comedy, and snippets of song and dance. The revue style borrowed heavily from the old American vaudeville shows (and music halls in England), and its future would become TV shows like Laugh In, Benny Hill and Saturday Night Live.

Here at Desert Rose Playhouse, this cast members have been chosen for their versatility and inventiveness. Each actor works not just in both acts; Act 2 includes three separate scenes, so some actors play as many as four parts, complete with elaborate costume, wig and makeup changes. It’s a demanding show! We have to mention there’s nudity and a few choice vulgarities, by the way, if anyone still cares.

Phil Murphy’s incomparable lighting even includes strobe lights and a “limelight” effect. (You can’t imagine the number of light cues.) Steve Fisher’s stage management whisks people, sets and props on and off stage with breathtaking ease. Allan Jensen’s colorful rich-textured costumes are just magnificent—some are awesomely elaborate (vampires, actresses, a Vegas show star) while others are built for speedy changes—some right onstage. The fascinating wigs are masterminded by Toni Molano. Strait himself created the scenery (and he runs the lights … talk about multiple talents), and it was painted by Walter Lab. Let’s also applaud Robbie Wayne’s delightful choreography, sprinkled throughout the show with flair and wicked humor. Along with Paul Taylor as producer, Edward Monie is listed as the show’s executive producer.

How do we describe this show? Do terms like “madcap” and “over the top” convey the wackiness? Do I tell you about the audience’s gasps, spontaneous applause and belly laughs? Should we discuss the lovely “takes,” the knockout legs of the actors in drag, and the amazing shoes? Where do we begin?

Let’s start with the actors. The stars are Loren Freeman and Kam Sisco, two seasoned professionals who devour the stage like their vampire characters devour blood. Freeman’s sensational and sonorous voice, his unequalled skill with makeup, his evident relish with his costumes (a gold dress with a popcorn trim; a delicious cerise suit with giant faux pearls)—these are hallmarks of a detail-oriented and vastly talented actor. His flawless diction is a joy—he never wastes a word. His deft performance is a must-see, and acting students could learn much from him.

Sisco’s amazing legs are fantastic enough to be distracting, and the flesh-colored pantyhose in the modern-time scenes flatters him wonderfully. (Wait until you see his canary-yellow heels.) He’s an actor who is right on top of every line and gesture, and his careful attention to his craft makes these roles unforgettable. He goes through so much in this show that you will be astonished by him.

Adina Lawson is the only real girl in the cast. There are so many men in drag that it feels like the stage is completely mobbed by ladies, but there’s really only Lawson! Hmmm. She is tinier by about a foot of height than everyone else, but always spunky and terrier-alert. She plays a variety of roles with extreme body language and attitude.

Terry Huber is an actor of enormous variety, with a whole pocketful of regional and international accents and seasoned theatrical skills. Here, he weaves his skills through some really strange roles. Oh, and there’s a shock underneath one of his outfits. Brace yourself.

Richard Marlow changes so completely in his roles that we had to sneak a look at our programs to make sure the designer Sebastian Lore was really the same person later playing King Carlisle, the Hollywood actor with a complicated persona. He brings a pleasing variety to his work.

Jacob Betts is almost unrecognizable as he switches roles from Ian McKenzie to Etienne the butler to Danny the dancer, showing his chameleonic ability to fully inhabit each part.

Steven Ciceron and John Fryer give us some smaller roles (my faves were two bitchy chorus boys), but they both inhabit their many characters with the conviction that grows out of working with a great director: Strait has pulled solid performances and impressive vocal variety out of both gentlemen.

SBOC and VLOS have to be seen to appreciate this wild ride. VLOS’ strange plot is, surprisingly, beautifully and satisfyingly resolved. I won’t talk about the finale, so I don’t ruin it for you. So buckle up, and see it. You’ll love it. The outrageous title only begins the fun in this show!

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Sleeping Beauty, or Coma, are performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 69620 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $32-$35. For tickets or more information, call 760-320-2000, or visit www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Frankly, I was uncomfortable going to see Clybourne Park, Dezart Performs’ latest production.

The setting for this “Black (and White) Comedy by Bruce Norris,” as the play’s poster says, is Chicago—in 1959 for Act 1, then fast-forwarding 50 years to the same house in 2009 for Act 2. The show won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2011, as well as the Tony Award for Best Play in 2012, and it requires a cast of eight—a sea change for Dezart, which until previous show Casa Valentina, always kept the cast size small (possibly because of those dressing rooms?).

The play deals with the always-awkward topic of race and real estate. My husband, Ted, was born in Chicago, and we have discussed the way his city divided up into enclaves dominated by Italians, Greeks, Germans, Scandinavians and African Americans. For those who can remember the bad old days of segregated neighborhoods and the “blockbusting” that took place, this play could serve as an unpleasant reminder. Yes, it’s important for the generations who have followed to be informed of this country’s often-dark history, lest we romanticize the past by forgetting how life really was back then … but I concede I was uncomfortable seeing a play tackle such an awkward topic.

But … what a surprise: This production is amazing! The writing is just astonishing. The conversation is completely realistic, with people butting in, cutting each other off, misinterpreting and talking when they should be listening. Clybourne Park is a magnificent example of playwright Bruce Norris’ magisterial command of the language and his shrewd understanding of people.

The direction by Michael Shaw is incredibly impressive, with his steady hand guiding the actors to performances even and strong throughout. He gets credit for total success with the extraordinarily difficult lines. (He confided to me afterward that the greatest part of their rehearsals was spent perfecting the speeches and dialogue, some of which require a language warning.) Each of the actors was allowed to develop his or her character(s) so the “voice” of each role is clarion clear. But it is the director’s prodigious talent and multiple skills that create the play’s consistency of tone. The blocking is also textbook perfection. Wow.

And the acting … oh my! Everyone is a “character”—well, actually, two. The whole cast (with one exception) plays two roles: One in 1959, and a different individual in 2009. One of the delights of this production is seeing the characters the actors have developed. We watch a complete person in each act—the good, bad and ugly. We see their pain, their tempers, their sweetness and their struggles. We glimpse their past history and get to know them more intimately than you’d think the time would permit.

David Youse opens the first act and dominates it; he’s a lit fuse we fear will explode—but when? His Russ is a man-in-a-grey-flannel-suit type, but we see so much more danger simmering beneath his surface. We search for a clue about his repressed anger, but dread finding it. His second-act role of Dan is a chameleonic contrast—he’s a blasé construction worker with a totally different voice, stance and attitude. What fun! Now THIS is acting.

Playing his wife, Bev, in Act 1 is Theresa Jewett. She’s a perfect product of 1950s-era women’s magazines and advertising—not just in her voice and appearance, but also in her dizzy attitude and even her belief system. But watch that heart-shaped face manage an enormous range of emotions—the way she handles a distancing husband, her black housekeeper, or her painful memories. She transmogrifies for Act 2 into Kathy, a feisty blonde lawyer with attitude—a delicious contrast, and equally believable.

Desiree Clarke in Act 1, plays Francine, a black maid who expertly balances the subservience of a domestic with her own dignity and her inborn sense of right and wrong. She is beautifully complex, and she gains our respect. In Act 2, Clark becomes Lena, a new-millennium woman with power and a strong sense of self which she asserts fearlessly but quietly. Her flawless diction is lovely.

Robert Rancano is Jim, a hapless cleric whose rigid adherence to his teachings and rather poor understanding of his parishioners makes him, despite his great voice, an ineffective and predictable minister. Rancano creates this memorable character by making him forgettable. In Act 2, he’s Tom, who is supposed to be leading this meeting about the contract, but is preoccupied and distracted. Rancano gives a subtle performance that required a lot of thinking.

Robert Ramirez creates the role of Albert, the husband of Francine, striving to appear at ease in this Act 1 white household. Ramirez gives a multi-layered performance almost entirely with his extraordinarily expressive eyes. He draws our attention with few words but plenty of reaction. In Act 2, he becomes Kevin, married to Lena, a smart and confident professional with nothing left to prove about himself. You like him in both of his well-developed roles.

Rob Hubler appears as Karl in Act 1, and earns our great admiration thanks to his willingness to appear foolish. A well-meaning bungler, his friendship is almost a liability, despite his sincerity and his fine voice. Hubler adroitly switches to Steve in Act 2, playing a stronger person who comes to surprise us—and his wife—with his odd and previously unexpressed views.

The extraordinary role of Betsy, played by Phylicia Mason, gives us a dear character who is not only pregnant, but deaf. She is very credible, including the gentle forgiveness she shows her husband, Karl, as he misspells his sign language (yes, I caught that), and to people who thoughtlessly turn away from her while speaking—or who stupidly yell at her, hoping to be heard. Lovely acting! In Act 2, she is uncomfortably pregnant AGAIN, but this time as Lindsay, married to Steve, and now is a very vocal, assertive and even sometimes shrill creature.

The lone character who plays just one role is Sean Timothy Brown, who is Kenneth. He appears as a perfect military prototype—handsome, tall and fit, looking fabulous in uniform. We don’t know him long enough to appreciate all of his subtleties, but he is hugely affecting with his air of tragedy in this flashback. Again, we are reminded how effective even a small role can be.

Kudos to the cast, the director the entire supportive crew of this play for a job superbly done. Clybourne Park is the surprise of the season, with its controversial, occasionally offensive and sometimes hilarious script. Don’t doubt that you will be surprised by it, too.

Clybourne Park, a production of Dezart Performs, is performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Jan. 22, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $25 to $30. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit www.dezartperforms.org.

They call it synchronicity when similar events coincide.

I had no idea what the word “Annapurna” meant—and yet I stumbled across its name and discovered its meaning just a couple of weeks before seeing the play of that title at Coachella Valley Repertory. Synchronicity! Turns out Annapurna is the Nepalese name of one of the 14 “over 8,000 meter high” mountains in the world—and it is listed as the deadliest of them all: One out of every three climbers of this rock has been killed.

At CV Rep, the play’s director and the company’s founder and artistic director, Ron Celona, chose Sharr White’s Annapurna to start the company’s sixth season—and congratulations on succeeding in a business where so many theaters fail.

However, this show is not about mountain-climbing. It’s about relationships—which can certainly be as dangerous, given the mortality rate of marriages these days. Ulysses and his wife Emma split up about 20 years ago, but now she’s tracked him down … to the icky Colorado trailer park where he resides. Why? CV Rep’s theme for this season is “Love, Marriage and Life-Changing Events,” and this two-actor play provides much food for thought.

The play stars Anna Nicholas as Emma and Eric Charles Jorgenson as Ulysses. Both actors boast impressive resumes, but the crucial factor in casting such a play has to be the chemistry between them. Nothing else—not the writing, the directing nor the technical support—will matter unless the actors can make believable their situation. You can put together two individually successful and skilled actors, yet still the show is compromised if there’s a lack of chemistry.

Technically, the play is fantastic. Let’s take a moment to recognize the work of Jimmy Cuomo as the set designer, Moira Wilke Whitaker as stage manager and lighting designer, Doug Morris as production manager and associate designer, Karen Goodwin as assistant stage manager and sound tech, Aalsa Lee as costume designer, Cricket S. Myers as sound designer, and Lynda Shaeps as hair and makeup designer.

Author Sharr White’s bio offers a big list of accomplishments and a rather prolific list of plays. Here, he combines comedy with drama. (They’re calling it “dramedy,” but I’m not totally sure that’s a real word yet.) We have to tack a language warning on to this work, which didn’t bother me until we realized that there were children in the audience on opening night. You might want to think twice before bringing them to this show. The laugh lines may not be everyone’s cup of, um, chai.

Should I also mention the partial nudity? Should I brace you for The World’s Most Annoying Dog barking nonstop in the background? If you’ve ever lived in a neighborhood with one of those, you will find yourself gritting your molars over the backstage woofing. Shall I warn your delicate sensibilities about the squalor in which we find Ulysses living? What about his being a published author, yet speaking with the most dreadful grammar? Well, consider yourself advised, and forge ahead if you will.

The dark quality of this show completely overshadows any laughs it might initially provide. As Ulysses and Emma finally lock horns over their failed marriage, the inevitable differences in how any situation is viewed by each party emerges: He says, she says. Memories fade, change, distort ... or do they? What other influences come into play? What about the influence of drinking? Health issues? Other people? What gets forgotten? Has time caused changes in how we see, or saw, life? How has the very world changed, and has the new technology affected memories of the past?

They say that when two people first meet, there is a wealth of information exchanged psychically, without a word. The bottom line is whether the relationship will or won’t continue past “hello.” We’ve all met people to whom we are immediately attracted, as well as people whom we instantly dislike—with nothing other than a gut feeling to explain it. Well, Ulysses and Emma met and were attracted and began a relationship and married, and now they haven’t spoken for 20 years when she shows up at the door of his rickety rural trailer. Thus, the actors now face a 90-minute (with no intermission) challenge to explain their situation to us. The very lines and cues of the script had to be daunting to learn, in a two-person show that takes place in one cramped space. It’s a feat of memorization by Nicholas and Jorgenson, and both rise to the occasion. Both characters go through a variety of emotion and mood changes in their time together. Though every actor deep down wants to be liked by the audience, these characters are essentially unsympathetic ones.

How you react to their reunion will obviously depend on, well, you, and what you bring to the play. Will you be moved? Will you believe it? Will you see chemistry between them? Will you laugh, feel tears, gasp, sprout goose bumps? I was not feeling much chemistry between Nicholas and Jorgenson on opening night. However, every theater-goer experiences his or her own responses to a play, and that is the special value of live theater.

A lot of hard work is evident in Annapurna—fortunately, though, not quite as much as climbing a real mountain.

Annapurna will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 20, at the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, 69930 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $48. For tickets or more information, call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

It’s autumn, and again, the theater season begins. How auspicious that the beginning of our fourth season of theater reviews coincides with the opening of the fifth season of plays by the fabulously successful Desert Rose Playhouse.

With all the doom-sayers proclaiming that live theater is dead, and that newspapers are dead, we have both survived.

This year, Desert Rose’s artistic director, Jim Strait, tells us that he and producer Paul Taylor are “addressing the woes of the world by doing comedy.” What a great idea! Their plans for 2016-17 include The Santaland Diaries, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom with Coma, Southern Baptist Sissies and Clark Gable Slept Here. If these crazy titles are any indication, we’re in for a LOT of fun this year at our desert’s LGBT playhouse.

The initial offering, POZ, was written by Michael Aman. It’s set in 2003 in The City (as New Yorkers proudly call it), and later on a beach in Massachussets. The play was nominated for a Carbonell Award (a theater award in Florida) last year, and this is only the third-ever production of the show. The writing is fluid and filled with echoes, and instead of being plot- or action-driven, it’s a comedy-splashed investigation into the lives and relationships of some fascinating characters.

The show’s open stage, specially designed by Thomas Valach, is painted by Walter Lab into a bright-red sky with fluffy white clouds. Red? It’s a clue. The set is minimalist, with just a curving set of stairs, one low platform and an armchair—across which the sky and clouds are also painted. Brilliantly lit by the award-winning Phil Murphy, the set is where the actors move into a variety of settings which our imaginations can flesh out. (You will particularly love how Murphy lights the waterfront scene.) Steve Fisher’s clever stage management rapidly transports us from one place to another, and the actors efficiently bus the props in and out of scenes themselves. Robbie Wayne’s costumes reflect each character’s special personality, and the casting is perfect.

And what personalities they are. Adina Lawson opens the play as Catherine, a sort-of-retired and stylish actress, neurotic and malcontent about everything from her aging to her out-of-order apartment building. Her edgy voice and superior attitude disguise the gentle and generous person hidden underneath, we realize as we get to know her and watch her interactions with others.

But … who’s that silently watching her? Turns out he’s Arthur, an angel, sweetly played by John Fryer. Ballet-trained and rehearsal-clad Arthur swirls throughout the play, strutting with the grace of a premier danseur; he eventually breaks his silence by launching into a lengthy monologue. He knows and visits all the other characters, even though they are not all are aware of his presence. (Just like the angels in our lives, perhaps.)

Edison, a 23-year-old who has been diagnosed with leukemia, is an actor/singer currently working as a waiter (of course), played by Peter Stoia. His is perhaps the most serious role, because the irony of his situation is affected by politics in every aspect of his life: In 2003, the disease was 78 percent curable, but ruinously expensive to treat. His youth and apparent inexperience provide a contrast to the other characters—but he shocks us with unexpected and disturbing cunning that we just don’t see coming.

The role of Robert, a cynical and weary 50-year-old lawyer (yes, there are a couple of good lawyer jokes), is performed by Richard Marlow. Self-consciously determined to keep up with technology and the times, he can’t help reminiscing about the Olden Days of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. He struggles to find an elusive relationship, yet sabotages his chances by keeping everyone at arm’s length—only partly because he is HIV-positive.

Lorraine Williamson is a breath of fresh air as Maia, a lesbian psychic. (How often do we hear those two words together?) She fills the stage with her garish, outrageous outfits and larger-than-life personality, but we can peek behind the facade to see her hidden pain. She gives us a multi-layered performance, which is especially notable in her musically voiced monologue.

Her ex-husband, Oscar, is played by Terry Huber, who has thrown caution to the winds with this performance. Here, he’s an over-the-top old-school queen who loves to dish, but who becomes suddenly vulnerable and uncertain when he struggles to resolve his relationship with his father. Huber never disappoints, and he’s delightful here, relishing his chance to deliver some of the best lines in the play. He shows us how even the most outrageous of us have to sometimes face the horrors of reality.

All these characters know each other and affect each other’s lives. The complexity builds through the play; my favorite scene is probably the one in the disco bar. (You’ll love the lighting!) The monologues are shot through with references to the life and times—what was popular on TV, what was legal and wasn’t, what was new back then, and the shock of being reminded of Sept. 11. There’s plenty about ghosts, Arthur included, and a thread of mystery running through the play. Death is always lurking, which increases the intensity of comedy through the contrast. Historically, 2003 was a different time, and it’s interesting to be jolted back to there.

The audience visibly warmed during this show. Perhaps we’d like to see a little more passion in the love story, but the characters are unforgettable, regardless. Jim Strait’s blocking is flawless—nobody knows how to use a space like he can—and the timing is excellent. The plot definitely takes a back seat to the characterizations, and the story is simply the stories of the lives of these people at this time. Are their memories the same as ours? It’s an interesting reality check; after all, we are never aware of change while it’s happening.

The year 2003 feels like a long time ago … that is, it did until I saw this play.

Poz is performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Oct. 23, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, located at 69620 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $32 to $35. For tickets or more information, call 760-202-3000, or visit desertroseplayhouse.org.

Page 1 of 6