BWW REVIEW: NEW REP'S 'RANCHO MIRAGE' IS NO OASIS IN THE DESERT
Written by Steven Dietz; directed by Robert Walsh; scenic design, John Howell Hood; costume designer, Amanda Maciel Antunes; lighting designer, Deb Sullivan; sound designer and composer, Dewey Dellay; production stage manager, Leslie Sears
Cast in Alphabetical Order:
Now through November 3, New Repertory Theatre, Charles Mosesian Theatre, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA 02472; tickets available at the Box Office by calling 617-923-8487 or online at www.newrep.orgAt the rise of Rancho Mirage, Steven Dietz's nasty little play about three nasty little couples who live in a nondescript gated community somewhere in the American Southwest, an amiable little man named Charlie says sincerely into a video recorder, "These are the very best people I know." Well, Charlie, I hate to tell you, but with friends like these, who needs enemies?
Lying, cheating, stealing, conniving, bankruptcy, miscarriages, adoption, divorce, dementia, crises of faith, closeted homosexuality, and maybe even diddling the babysitter are all thrown into this convoluted story of pampered and privileged professionals whose perfect little worlds are just "ticky tacky" illusions hiding painful little truths. Their carefully constructed lives are all a mirage, get it? Well, it's impossible not to as metaphor after metaphor is hammered home in the dialogue. "This is all a charade," says Louise (a shrewish Abigail Killeen). "This is all a façade," says Nick (a sullen Lewis D. Wheeler). Truth is this is all a wasted effort.
Nowhere is that effort more in evidence than in the performances by the cast. Both Killeen and Tamara Hickey as Nick's high-strung wife Diane seem to be trying to will serious meaning and energy into Rancho Mirage. As a result their confrontations - intended to be "dark comedy" if you believe the billing - come off as group therapy interventions run amok. Both actors start out over the top and never come down.
Wheeler is saddled with a grossly underwritten character but brings a sincere dignity to his failed real estate maven. Robert Pemberton as Trevor, Louise's much maligned and emotionally distant husband, wisely underplays the forced farce and finds surprising humor and pathos as a result.
Cate Damon as Pam and John Kooi as Charlie are the most likeable of the couples, despite the absurd situation that Dietz has written for them. With deft naiveté bordering on dimwittedness, they somehow manage to convey genuine love for each other - and respect for their friends even as they are attacked mercilessly by them.
Aside from the lovely sandstone, stucco, and terra cotta desert home designed in Earth tones by John Howell Hood, there is nothing particularly Southwestern about Rancho Mirage. The three upscale couples could be living in any sanitized suburban community. They are nondescript and elicit little empathy.
There could be a play worth salvaging here if Dietz would untangle the extraneous threads and develop what's most compelling: Pam and Charlie's conflicting feelings about having children and where their religious beliefs fit into their decision-making. As it stands now this engaging dilemma gets lost amid offhand jokes and intrusive "revelations" that seem to have made it into the play from some Lifetime TV soap opera checklist.
Rancho Mirage is presented at New Rep as part of the National New Play Network's rolling world premiere. Hopefully the playwright will continue to work on it as it makes its way across the country. Right now it's about as aimless as the tumbling tumbleweed.
PHOTOS BY ANDREW BRILLIANT/BRILLIANT PHOTOGRAPHY: Robert Pemberton as Trevor, John Kooi as Charlie and Lewis D. Wheeler as Nick; Tamara Hickey as Diane and Abigail Killeen as Louise; Cate Damon as Pam and John Kooi with the cast of Rancho Mirage