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Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins—From Desert Rose Playhouse

This comedy is set in 1977 and focuses on 15-year-old Horace Poore’s sexual awakening, hastened by images of Olympic champion Mark Spitz and anti-gay crusader Anita Bryant; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Oct. 19. $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Broadway D-Lights—From Desert Ensemble Theatre Company

Three of the valley’s top vocalists—Keisha D, Charles Herrera and Jerome Elliott—perform at 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 17. A portion of the proceeds go to Desert Ensemble’s high school scholarship fund. $30. At the Pearl McManus Theater in the Palm Springs Womans Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs. 760-565-2476; www.brownpapertickets.com/event/848586.

The Chosen—From CV Rep

The award-winning play tells the story of two boys, two fathers and two different Jewish communities in 1940s Brooklyn, N.Y., at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, from Wednesday, Oct. 29, through Sunday, Nov. 16. $45; $40 previews on Oct. 29 and 30; $55 opening night on Oct. 31. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

CV Rep Luminary Luncheon: Millicent Martin

The well-known star of both stage and screen—you may know her as Daphne’s mother on Frasier—is interviewed by Don Martin at noon, Wednesday, Oct. 22. $45; includes lunch catered by Lulu/Acqua Pazza. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Desert Theatre League Star Awards

Celebrate the best of the most recent theater season, starting at 4:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 5. $50. At Sun City Shadow Hills, 80875 Avenue 40, Indio. 760-772-9617; deserttheatreleague.org.

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein—From Theatre 29

The musical comedy based on Mel Brooks’ classic film is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, Oct. 3, though Saturday, Nov. 1, with additional matinees at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 12 and 26. $12 regular; $10 seniors and military; $8 children and students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein—From Palm Canyon Theatre

The musical comedy based on Mel Brooks’ classic film is performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Oct. 24, through Sunday, Nov. 2. $36. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Noises Off!—From Desert Theatreworks

Desert Theatreworks re-imagines what’s been called the funniest farce ever written for their intimate Arthur Newman Theatre space, at 7 p.m., Friday; 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Oct. 24, through Sunday, Nov. 9. No shows on Oct. 26 and Oct. 31. $25 regular; $23 seniors and students with ID. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

The Rocky Horror Show—From COD Theatre

The campy rock musical that made “The Time Warp” famous is performed at 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 24; 7 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 25; 3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 26; 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 30; 7 p.m. and midnight, Friday, Oct. 31; 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 1; and 3 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 2. Most shows $30 general, with discounts for students, COD staff and seniors; call to confirm times. At Theatre Too at College of the Desert, 43500 Monterey Ave., Palm Desert. 760-773-2565; collegeofthedesert.edu.

Sundays in Summer Series

Jan Abrams sings songs from World War II at 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 5. Sheldon Craig performs Unforgettable: The Nat King Cole Songbook at 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 12. Julie Esposito sings songs in a range of musical styles from the 1960s to today at 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 19. Diane Pancel pays tribute to Day, Garland and Monroe in Ladies of Hollywood at 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 26. Each show is $11; cash only at the box office. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-325-2731; www.lesmichaels.com/joslyn.

The Who’s Tommy—From Palm Canyon Theatre

In this famous rock musical, Tommy is traumatized into catatonia after he witness his father commit murder. As an adolescent, he discovers a natal knack for pinball, and becomes an international pinball superstar; at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Oct. 12. $36. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

There is one reason, really, to go see Desert Rose Playhouse’s production of Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins: The absolutely stunning performance by Garrett Hoy as Horace Poore, a young man dealing with the realization that he’s gay in 1970s rural America.

This is not to say there aren’t other great performances in the play; in fact, the entire cast is excellent. So, too, is the direction by Jim Strait. Brian Christopher Williams’ script is compelling, despite a few flaws, and the production values are just as we’ve come to expect at Desert Rose—excellent.

But it’s the amazing work by Hoy you’ll be talking about as you leave the theater. This two-hour play is, essentially, a monologue by Hoy’s Horace Poore. He is narrating his journey as he moves from being a 7-year-old in 1969 who watches in horror as his big brother, Chaz (Alex Enriquez), flees to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War draft, to being a 15-year-old in 1977 who comes out to his family after realizing he’s gay.

The national concerns of the 1970s—that war, a recession, Watergate, the energy crisis—directly affect the Poore family and their Adirondack Mountains community. Horace’s mother, Etta (a homey, hilarious Lorraine Williamson) loses her job in a shirt-making factory due to the economy—and has a hard time finding another due to her age and a lack of a high school diploma. Horace’s gruff but loving father, Myron (a fantastic J. Stegar Thompson), is forced to deal with the sigma of having a draft-dodging son while working as his union’s president. Brother Chaz loses touch with the family until President Jimmy Carter’s pardon allows him to return from Canada. Meanwhile, the entire Poore family deals with the screams of one of their neighbors, a mentally challenged, doll-clutching middle-aged woman named Agnes (Toni Molano).

Heavy topics, yes. However, this play is surprisingly light-hearted, thanks to the charm and awkward, youthful charisma of Hoy’s Horace. While these aforementioned news events affect him, too, it’s other noteworthy happenings that cause Horace’s mind to race. First comes swimmer Mark Spitz’s domination of the 1972 Munich Olympics. Spitz’s historic accomplishments don’t necessarily enthrall Horace—but “bronze God” Spitz’s smooth, muscled body does.

“I’ve always known I was different. Now I know why,” Horace sighs.

Horace is further thrown into turmoil when he stumbles into the middle school locker room one day and spies, naked in the shower, his own, local version of Mark Spitz (and the lust that he represents): Mr. Spencer, the school’s gym teacher (Domingo Winstead). In the months and years that follow, Mr. Spencer and Horace grow close.

Several years later comes a second news event that particularly roils Horace: The emergence on the national scene of Anita Bryant, the singer, beauty queen and orange-juice spokeswoman who took it upon herself to fight an ordinance in Dade County, Fla., that banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. As any American who was alive back then knows, her “Save Our Children” campaign turned her into a prominent spokeswoman for the anti-gay movement. Her popularity rattles Horace; he can’t wait to get the newspaper each day to learn more.

Daniel Vaillancourt and Katie Pavao each play a variety of characters, generally 1970s news figures who emerge and offer visuals and narration to complement Horace’s musings. Pavao spends much of her time earning laughs and stealing scenes as Anita Bryant. (Despite the name of the play, Anita Bryant is still alive, by the way, although her career is certainly dead.)

Williamson and Thompson are fantastic as Horace’s parents. They create nuanced characters who are alternately hilarious, loving and troubled. The two also have great chemistry together; one of the show’s best scenes occurs when an angry Etta confronts Myron after he’s fired from his job. By the end of the scene, the tables are turned: Etta is comforting and consoling Myron. Great stuff.

This play’s problems, minor though they may be, largely involve the chronology and how it’s telegraphed. The play starts with a broadcast of the 1977 World Series, and then suddenly shifts back eight years, to 1969. However, there weren’t enough verbal and visual cues to clearly illustrate this shift right way, and I was left for several minutes wondering what had happened. (A major typo in the program—it lists the play’s timing as “October 1977 and eight years proceeding,” rather than preceding—contributed to my confusion.)

Also: Perhaps I missed something, but it seemed like Horace first glimpsed Mr. Spencer in the junior-high locker-room shortly after Horace’s 1972 Mark Spitz infatuation. However, it wasn’t until Bryant’s emergence on the national scene in 1977 that Horace began talking about soon entering high school. That would mean Horace spent five years in junior high. Huh?

Whatever. Timing confusion is not the point here: The point is that Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins is fantastic because Garrett Hoy is so fantastic. His Horace seems so darned real. We’ve all seen child actors before who, because they are taught to E-NUN-CI-ATE! by their acting teachers, come out onstage and speak like seasoned politicians. Hoy, however, doesn’t always enunciate his words all that well. In fact, at times, he seems to ramble—yet he’s always understandable. In other words, he talks like a 15-year-old. Perfect.

I was also blown away by Hoy’s command of the script. This role would be difficult for a seasoned, veteran performer, as Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins is essentially a two-hour monologue by Horace, with some breaks here and there. Only once during the entire show did I sense that Hoy was having difficulty (and that moment lasted maybe two seconds, total). Brilliant work.

After the show, which concluded with a standing ovation for Hoy, director Jim Strait told me this is the first nonmusical role for Hoy ever. The folks at Desert Rose, the valley’s LGBT and LGBT-friendly theater company, knew Hoy thanks to his role in the company’s performance of Falsettos in Concert two years ago. They were left so impressed, Strait said, that they checked to make sure Hoy was available to play Horace before the company added the play to the schedule as the 2014-2015 season-opener.

“Not bad for a 15-year-old,” I told Strait, grossly understating things

“Actually, Garrett’s still 14,” Strait said.

Wow. Go see Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins, and enjoy one of the best performances you’re likely to see on a Coachella Valley stage this season.

Desert Rose Playhouse’s Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins is performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Oct. 19, at 69260 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $28 to $30. For tickets or more information, call 760-202-3000, or visit www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter’s Night—From Desert Rose Playhouse

Set in New York City in 1987, 2 Boys explores the sexual etiquette of one-night stands and is peppered with poignant, humorous and sly observations. The play contains nudity and sexual situations; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Sept 7. $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

The 39 Steps—From Theatre 29

Mix a Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, then add a dash of Monty Python, and you have The 39 Steps, a fast-paced whodunit. At 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, through Saturday, Sept. 13, with a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Sept. 7. $12 regular; $10 seniors and military; $8 children and students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins—From Desert Rose Playhouse

This comedy is set in 1977 and focuses on 15-year-old Horace Poore’s sexual awakening, hastened by images of Olympic champion Mark Spitz and anti-gay crusader Anita Bryant. Horace fixates first on Spitz, then his ambiguous gym teacher, and finally the orange juice pitchwoman/“Save Our Children” zealot; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Sept. 26, through Sunday, Oct. 19. $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

CV Rep’s Children’s Outreach Production: Touchy Subjects

Touchy Subjects addresses the important subject of sexual harassment in the school system, one of the most common forms of bullying in schools today. The play uses a creative approach by sharing different situations that children encounter. The play is performed by children’s peers. Two public performances take place at 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 27. $10 adults; free to children younger than 17. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Seminar—From Desert Theatreworks

Set in present-day New York City, this comedy follows four young writers: Kate, Martin, Douglas and Izzy; and their professor, Leonard. Each student has paid Leonard $5,000 for a 10-week-long writing seminar to be held in Kate’s Upper West Side apartment. As tensions arise and romance falls between students, they clash over their writing, their relations and their futures; at 7 p.m., Friday; and 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, from Friday, Sept. 5, through Saturday, Sept. 13. $25 regular; $23 seniors; $15 students with ID. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

Shattered Ceilings—From Theatre 29

Theatre 29 hosts this touring play that spotlights an array of remarkable women who made significant contributions to our nation through courage, imagination and conviction, despite obstacles of inequality. The project combines performance art with public school curriculum development designed to change the fact that only 2 percent of persons named in high school history books are women. At 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Sept. 26 and 27. $15. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Sundays in Summer Series

Jack Betts takes a musical journey through his acting career in On My Way Here, at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 3. Jaci Davis, accompanied by the Derrik Lewis Trio, sings songs from Minnelli, Fitzgerald and Streisand at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 10. Ron Cohn celebrates his birthday with Live and Let Live at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 17. Juliana Hansen sings hits from Broadway, Disney and more at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 24. Husband and wife Broadway performers, Rachel Tyler and Matthew Tyler will bring their cabaret concert For Better, Or Worse, at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 31. Each show is $11; cash only at the box office. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-325-2731.

The Who’s Tommy—From Palm Canyon Theatre

In this famous rock musical, Tommy is traumatized into catatonia after he witness his father commit murder. As an adolescent, he discovers a natal knack for pinball, and becomes an international pinball superstar; at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Sept. 26, through Sunday, Oct. 12. $36. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

True West—From Palm Canyon Theatre

Austin, is a college-educated Hollywood screenwriter working on a screenplay while house-sitting for his mother. Enter his older brother, Lee, a drifter and a thief who has been living in the desert; at 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 19, and Saturday, Sept. 20; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 21. $27 to 35. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

The season at the Desert Rose Playhouse doesn’t officially begin until September, so two-man-play 2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter’s Night is what artistic director Jim Strait calls a “lagniappe,” a delightful Cajun word you rarely hear outside of the South—meaning a “little bit extra.”

While this extra play has its charms, in the end, it just doesn’t capture us.

Producer Paul Taylor’s choice of this one-act add-on has helped make Desert Rose a year-round theater. Many of us remember when the desert seemingly shut down completely in the summer; for anyone to open a play in August was unthinkable. But it’s 2014, and a full house of fans turned out to take in this lagniappe, which will run for three weeks. Good for Desert Rose!

Don’t think that DRP has scrimped on the energy and time always lavished on its productions because it’s the summer. This play is a tricky one … well, maybe it was a tad easier for costume designer Mark Demry, since the cast is nude most of the time. Maybe lighting director Phil Murphy got a break, too, as the whole play is in real time, about an hour and a half in the night, and indoors, in a New York apartment—he doesn’t need to supply sunrises, storms or other fancy effects. But imagine the challenges for stage manager Steve Fisher, not to mention the director, Strait himself. The set is, well, a bed. It’s in a corner of a tiny New York apartment, with not much opportunity for blocking—a director’s nightmare. (Some of those New York apartments were/are REALLY tiny!)

It’s important for the audience to understand the time factor: This play is set in 1987. It’s the post-disco era, and to be gloriously single was to own the world. Except … we were already under the shadow of the wings of that disease. People were starting to sneak off to be tested. Rumors abounded. Nothing was clear, except that it seemed to be mostly in the gay community. Mostly. This is not the topic of 2 Boys in a Bed, though, of course, it is addressed eventually.

We find Peter and Daryl in the aftermath of a casual encounter. And this is where it happens: Is this The Start of Something Big, or another meaningless and forgettable experience? Both gay and straight audiences will see something in this play, as it reminds oneself how everyone feels at the beginning of a relationship, when the clock starts ticking, and we don’t know when it will (ever?) stop.

Peter and Daryl are finding out each other’s thoughts about all the important stuff: How do you feel about your past? Your future? (OUR future?) How do you feel about your personal pain? What makes you shy? What are your goals? How important is sex in a relationship? Are you telling the truth or lying? Peter and Daryl wobble through all these topics and more, as we all did/do. Not many people are good at reading others instantly, so they have to trailblaze through the forest of each other to find out the answers. And that’s the show, folks.

The hard-working actors—Ryan Dominguez as Daryl, and Chris Horychata as Peter—bring a couple of valuable assets to the play. First, thanks to their flawless skin and nice bodies, they’re easy on the eyes—and they are not self-consciousness about waltzing around in their nakedness. Second, they have their lines down pat. 2 Boys in a Bed is a hugely talky play—words words words, nonstop. (How much action can you weave through the dialogue in a one-act play set in a bed?) This is where an actor really earns his salt, because timing, the interpretation of emotion and body language become paramount.

That said, here’s where it gets sticky: Does the audience believe? Do we disappear into the play and forget ourselves?

Peter is supposed to be a construction worker, and I didn’t believe that for a second. We’ve all gone past enough construction sites to know what those guys generally look like—and this guy is strictly indoors.  Daryl is supposed to be an artist, yet Dominguez never exhibited anything that would make us believe he’s an artistic type for even an instant. There are a few other credibility-killers, but you can discover them yourself.

Alas, we don’t believe. We do not disappear into the play and lose ourselves. We just don’t see the push-pull of a new relationship being born (or not).

It’s difficult to discern whether this is the fault of the players or the script—but there is a lack of chemistry here that leaves us cold. As cold, say, as a winter’s night.

2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter’s Night is performed at at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Sept 7, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 69260 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $28 to $30. For tickets or more information, call 760-202-3000, or visit www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter’s Night—From Desert Rose Playhouse

Set in New York City in 1987, 2 Boys explores the sexual etiquette of one-night stands and is peppered with poignant, humorous and sly observations. The play contains nudity and sexual situations; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Aug. 22, through Sunday, Sept 7. $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

The 39 Steps—From Theatre 29

Mix a Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, then add a dash of Monty Python, and you have The 39 Steps, a fast-paced whodunit. At 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, Aug. 15, through Saturday, Sept. 13, with 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sunday, Aug. 24 and Sept. 7. $12 regular; $10 seniors and military; $8 children and students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Happy Hour: A Staged Reading—From CV Rep

Gavin MacLeod and Michael Shaw star in the staged reading of George Eastman’s play; at 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 2; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 3. A dessert reception follows. $20. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

He Loves and She Loves—From CV Rep’s Summer Cabaret Series

Erika and Brent Schindele star in this evening of love songs from “boy meets girl” to “happily ever after”; at 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 9; and 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 10. $25. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Mixed Plate, an Un-Gala Fundraiser for Desert Rose Playhouse

An evening of song and dance by favorite performers, as well as fun, friends and fabulous food from LuLu/Acqua Pazza and iPastries is a money-raiser for the theater company, with a reception at 7 p.m., and a performance at 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 16. $40. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

The Stops—From Desert Rose Playhouse

Three women (played by men) embark on a mission after their friend and mentor, an Evangelical Christian composer and organist, is ousted from his music-minister position—because he’s gay; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, extended through Sunday, Aug. 3. $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Sundays in Summer Series

Actor, singer, playwright and director Jack Betts performs his one-man mini-musical, On My Way Here, at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 3. Accompanied by the Derrik Lewis Trio, Jaci Davis debuts her new show, Liza and Ella and Babs, Oh My! at 2 p.m., thSunday, Aug. 10. Ron Cohn celebrates his birthday with Live and Let Live, a cabaret show about his favorite composer, Cole Porter, at 2 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 17. Each show is $11; cash only at the box office. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-325-2731.

The Vagina Monologues

The series of monologues by Eve Ensler is presented by the Smiley Face, the Frown Entertainment Co. and Georgie’s Alibi Azul Patio; 7:30 p.m., Saturday; and 3:30 p.m., Sunday, from Saturday, Aug. 2, through Sunday, Aug. 31. $15; special three-course prix-fixe dinner for $45. At Georgie’s Alibi Azul Patio, 369 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-5533; www.alibiazul.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

Bubblegum’s Anonymous: Chew on This—From CV Rep’s Summer Cabaret Series

This show is a fast-paced, lighthearted twist on 12-step programs for people who love bubblegum music, and stars Gilmore Rizzo; at 7 p.m., Friday, July 18; 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, July 19; and 2 p.m., Sunday, July 20. $25. Also, at 7 p.m., Saturday, July 26, CV Rep’s Conservatory Writers’ Group presents Tales From the Twilight Café, a staged reading of new works. $10. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Children’s Theatrical Series at the Annenberg Theater: Dream Carver

The Annenberg Theater of the Palm Springs Art Museum offers a summer series of children’s live theatrical productions. At noon and 3 p.m., Saturday, July 5, Swazzle Inc. presents Dream Carver, a 55-minute bilingual musical based on the book by Diana Cohn. $15 children 16 and younger; $20 for adults. At the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org/annenberg-theater.

A Doll’s House—From Theatre 29

Torvald Helmer loves his wife, Nora, but he considers her a child and a possession. When a secret debt comes back to haunt her, Nora’s seemingly idyllic domestic existence becomes a fraught battleground. Shows at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, through Saturday, July 19, with 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sunday, July 6 and 13. No show on July 4. $12; $10 seniors and military; $8 students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

Fiddler on the Roof—From Green Room Theatre Company

This production of the classic musical stars young actors, age 13 to 24, and is preceded by a short showcase of lighthearted scenes featuring 8- to 12-year-olds, at 6 p.m., Wednesday, July 16; and 1 and 6 p.m., Thursday, July 17. $18 general; $10 students and seniors. At the Indian Wells Theatre at CSU San Bernardino Palm Desert, 37500 Cook St., Palm Desert. 760-696-2546; www.greenroomtheatrecompany.org.

Seussical the Musical—From Palm Canyon Theatre

Inspired by Dr. Seuss’ most famous tales, this lively musical is performed at 7 p.m., Thursday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, July 11, through Sunday, July 20. $25 general; $10 children and students. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

The Stops—From Desert Rose Playhouse

Three women (played by men) embark on a mission after their friend and mentor, an Evangelical Christian composer and organist, is ousted from his music-minister position—because he’s gay; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Saturday, July 19. $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Sundays in Summer Series

Let Me Be Frank is an original live show, created by and starring Angelo Divino, honoring Frank Sinatra with his story and songs, spanning five decades; at 2 p.m., Sunday, July 6. Born to Sing stars Keisha D in a musical cabaret show also featuring Charles Herrera, Michael Bolivar, John Bolivar and Charlie Creasy; at 2 p.m., Sunday, July 13. $11; cash only at the box office. Call for information about other Sunday shows. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-325-2731.

Published in Theater and Dance

If you’re looking for an entertaining evening full of music and laughs, head over to the Desert Rose Playhouse to see The Stops (A Fabulously Fundamental Musical), by Eric Lane Barnes and Drew Emery.

Directed by Jim Strait, The Stops—the name comes from knobs on an organ, which when pulled out create different musical sounds—is the tale of three lady organists: Rose Rabinowitz Rigdale, a former Jewess turned Unitarian who’s just divorced her Catholic husband; Ginny Dooley, a bleached-blonde Baptist who’s never without her chardonnay; and Euglena Belcher, a pious Nazarene from Branson. They have formed an Andrews Sisters-style musical group at the urging of legendary church musical director Dale Meadows. He believes they have what it takes to spread his musical message to the rest of the world.

However, there’s a big problem: Meadows has lost his job and is about to stand trial after being outed as a homosexual by an overly righteous congregation member. The members of this trio, who met at a meeting of NALOG (North American Lady Organists’ Guild), are on a mission to free Meadows from jail and debut his songs. Though they have very different religious views, the three women are united in their determination.

A director friend of mine once said, “Knowing how to cast well is really the key.” Well, Jim Strait hit this one out of the ballpark: His cast is superb. All three have strong acting chops, excellent comic timing and great musicality. Their vocal harmonies are stellar.

As the holier-than-thou Euglena, Mark Ziemann is believable as a woman. His breakdown and dramatic solo toward the end of the show is actually quite moving. Terry Huber delivers as Rose, the wittiest and most down-to-earth of the characters. At one point, she asks what happens when you cross and agnostic with a dyslexic. The answer? “Someone who sits up all night wondering if there is a dog.” Valley favorite Raul Valenzuela nearly steals the show as the slutty, wine-guzzling Ginny. When Euglena goes on and on about her body being a temple, Ginny replies, “Well, mine’s an amusement park!” Her sexually charged “It’s All in Your Mind,” which includes onstage participation by two audience members, is one of the show’s highlights. Valenzuela’s simulated organ playing is also quite good. The real instrumental background is skillfully provided by musical director Steven Smith.

Men in drag can sometimes look overly cartoonish onstage, but not here. Mark Demry’s costumes and Art Healey’s wigs work well, and really help define each character. Kudos also to Phil Murphy (lighting), Steve Fisher (stage manager) and Paul Taylor (producer).

Desert Rose Playhouse bills itself as the “Coachella Valley’s LGBT and gay-positive stage company. It certainly is that, but even those who are new to LGBT theater will enjoy this production. Yes, it’s irreverent and bawdy, but not in an offensive way.

And the truth is, it’s a hoot!

The Stops, a production of Desert Rose Playhouse, is performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Saturday, July 19, at 69620 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $28 to $30, and the running time is just less than 2 hours, with one 15 minute Intermission. For tickets or more information, call 760-202-3000, or visit www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Children’s Theatrical Series at the Annenberg Theater

The Annenberg Theater of the Palm Springs Art Museum offers a summer series of children’s live theatrical productions on Saturdays. Each performance will be offered twice, at noon and 3 p.m. June 7: Let’s Go Science. June 14: Jest in Time Circus. June 21: Bella and Harry. June 28: Super Scientific Circus. $15 children 16 and younger; $20 for adults. At the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org/annenberg-theater.

A Doll’s House—From Theatre 29

Torvald Helmer loves his wife, Nora, but he considers her a child and a possession. When a secret debt comes back to haunt her, Nora’s seemingly idyllic domestic existence becomes a fraught battleground. Shows at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from Friday, June 20, through Saturday, July 19, with 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sunday, June 29 and July 13. $12; $10 seniors and military; $8 students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org.

The Haunted Host—From Desert Rose Playhouse

The LGBT and LGBT-friendly playhouse presents one of the first contemporary gay plays, Robert Patrick’s comedy The Haunted Host, on the 50th anniversary of its Greenwich Village premiere, at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, June 1. $25 to $28. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Laughter, Love and Lunacy—From CV Rep’s Summer Cabaret Series

Alix Korey, Janene Lovullo and Sal Mistretta star in this show featuring “songs you can or can’t take seriously,” at 7 p.m., Friday, June 27, and Saturday, June 28; and 2 p.m., Sunday, June 29. $25. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

Live It Up Productions’ Masterpiece

Broadway performers pay tribute to some of the world’s most celebrated pieces of classic art; it’s a fundraiser for the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Desert AIDS Project, at 7 p.m., Friday, June 6. $15; $10 museum members and DAP clients. At the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org/annenberg-theater.

Southern Hospitality—From Desert Theatreworks

This is the story of The Futrelle Sisters—Frankie, Twink, Honey Raye and Rhonda Lynn, whose town is facing extinction! It’s billed as a “laugh-out-loud Southern farce”; at 7 p.m., Friday; and 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, from Friday, June 20, through Saturday, June 28. $25; $23 seniors; $15 students; $10 kids 15 and younger. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

The Stops—From Desert Rose Playhouse

Three women (played by men here) embark on a mission after their friend and mentor, an Evangelical Christian composer and organist, is ousted from his music-minister position—because he’s gay; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, June 13, through Saturday, July 19. $28 to $30. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

True West—From Palm Canyon Theatre

Austin, is a college-educated Hollywood screenwriter working on a screenplay while house-sitting for his mother. Enter his older brother, Lee, a drifter and a thief who has been living in the desert; at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, May 30, through Sunday, June 8. $35 to $40; At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Regional theater companies don’t often have historic events taking place on their stages, but our comfy, 85-seat Desert Rose Playhouse in Rancho Mirage is now mounting a 50th-anniversary production of a play that holds an important place in American theater’s history.

Robert Patrick, the author of The Haunted Host, was there on opening night to watch the new production of what’s considered one of the first contemporary gay plays. “I never dreamed I’d be seeing this play 50 years later,” he confided to me.

The whole thing happened as a result of having a venue at which to perform such works: the now-famous Caffe Cino. Back in the ’60s, Joe Cino opened the place so playwrights and actors could create productions that offered the polar opposite of Broadway’s razzmatazz.

“We didn’t know we were pioneers,” said Patrick. “But four Pulitzer Prize winners (and finalists) came from the Cino. John Guare, who wrote Six Degrees of Separation, was the first. Lanford Wilson, author of Talley’s Folly; William Hoffman, who wrote As Is, and who co-starred as Frank in the first Haunted Host; and Tom Eyen, who went on to create Dreamgirls—all got their start at Caffe Cino, along with the writers of Hair and Dames at Sea, and names like Al Pacino and Sam Shepard.”

This is where LGBT theater got its very start. Joe Cino’s thought-provoking motto was, “Do what you have to do.” And so in 1964, Lanford Wilson’s play The Madness of Lady Bright was the first ever gay play to hit the boards.

“We called him ‘The Mozart from Missouri,’” reminisced Patrick.

I inquired as to the critics’ response to the show. “They were completely overwhelmed by the brilliance of the writing—to the point that the subject simply didn’t matter. It wasn’t even mentioned in the reviews! All they could think about was the writing.”

So when The Haunted Host came along later that year, the road to success for LGBT theater had already begun to be paved.

Of course it takes place in the ’60s, in New York’s Greenwich Village. “The stage was so small,” remembered Patrick, “I was about a foot away from the audience.”

At the Desert Rose, the open stage that greets playgoers is instantly recognizable as one of those tiny apartments stuffed with comfortable clutter (mine was on Jarvis Street in Toronto), and includes set-designer Steve Fisher’s great touches, like a bookcase made with bricks and boards, which back then was mandatory decor. The bright colors, the plush cushions, the souvenirs and the overfilled closet (with drag items, never referred to—a wealth of boas, spangles and furs) are all flawlessly illuminated by lighting designer Phil Murphy. Costume designer Mark Demry continues the decade’s theme: It’s an instant trip down Memory Lane for those fortunate enough to have been there.

From a theatrical point of view, however, all of this creates a challenge: There just isn’t much room left in which to move. Under the always-deft direction of Wendy Cohen, however, the two actors maneuver cleverly in the limited space.

The three scenes are separated by live music. The play opens with a folksinger (so prevalent in those days; this one even sports a loud tie-dye T-shirt), soprano Lin Gillham, on guitar. She is also the production’s stage manager, and what a job that must be. The other two entr’actes use stubble-bearded (not the fashion back then!) musician/vocalist Miguel Arballo (whose diction could use a wakeup call), also on a six-string. Oddly enough, the songs have absolutely nothing to do with the action, plot, mood or characters of the play, and except for establishing the time period, they add nothing. But, then, it was the ’60s, when everything was puzzling.

From the moment the play begins, when Jim Strait bursts onto the stage, you can’t take your eyes off him. He played this part in the ’80s in San Diego, but even that doesn’t explain his magisterial command of the role of Jay. It is rare to see an actor so enmeshed with his character that you can actually see a thought dawn in his eyes. We can only hope that every actor in town will rush to see this play, to learn from a master like Strait. Of course, the wittiness of the dialogue and the opportunity to toss around such wonderfully funny lines helps. The script is peppered with one-liners and smart-mouth comments; you’d swear that Strait just made them up. Wait until you see him do his breathtaking monologues and make those stunning quips. The sole problem in this brilliant performance is, to be honest, his hair: The bangs are so long that they keep flopping into his eyes, and although Jay sometimes tosses his hair to great effect, Jim Strait sometimes unconsciously wipes his curls back. It’s like an actor unaware of his hands constantly fussing with an itchy nose. It’s great hair—maybe a simple trim of the bangs could cure this?

Jay is a writer. And one of his friends sends him a wannabe writer, new in town from Iowa: Frank, played by former ballet-dancer John Ferrare. The gorgeous Frank has never encountered an actual gay person before. And so it begins. Ferrare, beautifully playing a straight man (in both senses of the word) to Strait’s comic character, has to work indescribably hard to provide the setups and to control the timing of the lines—some delivered so rapid-fire as to make an Uzi envious. Frank needs a place to stay (didn’t we all back then), so the recently bereaved Jay provides his pull-out couch. Frank has an agenda: He wants help with his writing, so he hopes to use Jay’s experience and skills to improve a play he has already written and brought along. Ferrare hits just the right note with his seriousness, and then he shocks us (all too rarely) with one of his light-up-the-world smiles.

I asked Patrick what has changed with his play in its 50 years. “The attitudes of the period,” he replied. “It puts me through the meat grinder to see the play now. … Nobody today could be as ignorant as Frank was then about gays. People ask me if I am the real Jay. Actually, Jay was Joe Cino! And Frank is all of us writers. That’s why I combine the comedy with the drama, like Shakespeare. The play is really about relationships, about codependency—and that, unfortunately, never seems to change.

“I set out to give the audience absolutely every bit of entertainment I could give them.”

And does he ever. Run, don’t walk, to see The Haunted Host.

The Haunted Host is performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, June 1, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 69620 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $25 to $28. For tickets or more information, call 760-202-3000, or visit www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

College of the Desert’s Les Misérables—at the McCallum Theatre

The McCallum hosts College of the Desert’s production of Les Misérables at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 1; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 2 and 3; and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 4. $25 to $45. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Equus—From Palm Canyon Theatre

The Tony Award-winning play about a psychologist’s attempts to understand a young man’s obsession with horses is performed at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 16 and 17; and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 18. $25. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

The Haunted Host—From Desert Rose Playhouse

The LGBT and LGBT-friendly playhouse presents one of the first contemporary gay plays, Robert Patrick’s comedy The Haunted Host, on the 50th anniversary of its Greenwich Village premiere, at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, May 2, through Sunday, June 1. $25 to $28. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Is It Just Me, or Is It Really Dumb in Here?—From Script2Stage2Screen

Local Jason Hull’s crazy sketch comedy is performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 2 and 3. $10. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, 72425 Via Vail, Rancho Mirage. 760-345-7938; www.script2stage2screen.com.

Nunset Boulevard—From Theatre 29

Nunset Boulevard follows the Little Sisters of Hoboken as they’re getting set to perform at what they think is the Hollywood Bowl; turns out it’s actually a bowling alley. Shows at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, through Saturday, May 24, with 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sunday, May 4 and 18. $12; $10 seniors and military; $8 students. At 73637 Sullivan Road, Twentynine Palms. 760-361-4151; theatre29.org .

Swan Lake—From CK Dance

Local dance studio CK Dance presents the classic ballet, at 7 p.m., Friday, May 23; and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 24. $15 to $25. At the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org/annenberg-theater.

Thoroughly Modern Millie—From Palm Canyon Theatre

In the early 1920s, Millie has a goal: To marry a rich New Yorker and live the “modern” life. Of course, things don’t happen that easily; at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, May 2, through Sunday, May 11. $32; $10 students/children (call the box office). At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Wait Until Dark—From Desert Theatreworks

The thriller that was a Broadway hit before becoming a famous film starring Audrey Hepburn comes to the Joslyn Center stage, at 7 p.m., Friday; and 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, from Friday, May 9, through Saturday, May 17. $25; $23 students and seniors; 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.

Published in Theater and Dance

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