BWW Review: CHURCH AND STATE by DezArt Performs At Pearl McManus Theater Will Take Your Breath Away
When I began writing reviews for Broadway World, I thought it would be great to take my 90-year-old uncle as my plus one to see some Palm Springs theater. My first assignment was Paula Vogel's How I Learned To Drive, the account of a young woman's memories of her uncle molesting her under the guise of teaching her to drive. He took a hard pass on going. To be clear, there was no molestation in our history, but well...it would have been awkward. After seeing the play, I was good with that decision. It is a terrific production, but definitely squirm-worthy when not making you laugh out loud.
My next play was The Understudy by Theresa Rebeck, and the description seemed fairly innocuous in the Uncle/Niece department so we went, and that turned out great. It was a fantastic production of a terrific comedy and a definite win.
The third play I was asked to review was DezArt Performs production of Church and State by Jason Odell Williams. I read the synopsis, and because my uncle and I are entire universes apart in our political views, I decided not to take him. The last thing I wanted was a crusty date who makes a scene by walking out on opening night while I was holding press credentials. I wish I hadn't made that decision.
No matter what side of the political aisle you're seated on, this play hits you firmly and soundly right in the solar plexus. It is bipartisan at its core, and while it jabs at politicians, its main focus is the epidemic of shootings in America. I would say it is timely, since just days ago a 28-year-old former Marine walked into a club in Thousand Oaks, California and killed 12 people with a modified handgun, except it happens far too frequently in our country. In fact, one of the characters lists all of the mass shootings in the United States with a note from the playwright to "add to the list as they occur." After the Thousand Oaks shooting, I found out that my uncle and I agree on one thing: the state of affairs in regards to guns in America needs to be addressed.
That is not to say that the play isn't funny. In fact, the audience laughed non-stop for a solid 60 minutes. Credit the show's director, Michael Shaw's pacing and his skill in motivating his actors; the terrific set design by Thomas L. Valach; the fantastic light design by Phil Murphy; the captivating sound design by Producer Clark Duggar, and Frank Cazares' spot-on costumes. I'll get to the actors in a minute, but know that this production not only hits all of the right notes, it does so in perfect harmony.
The story revolves around Senator Charles Whitmore (Beau Marie) who, at the funeral of two young children murdered in a school shooting, finds himself questioning his belief in God, which is a big deal for the Republican from North Carolina whose campaign slogan is "my running mate is Jesus." Approached by a blogger, Whitmore pours out his feelings about a God that would allow this to happen, and that blogger's story is about to go viral. As Whitmore readies for one final speech before the election, which is occurring in three days, he confesses his "faux pas" (or did he want the blogger to publish his change of heart?) to his Jewish campaign manager, Alex Klein (Tammy Hubler) who sees in him a future POTUS, as does his bible-thumping and goal-oriented beautiful wife, Sara (Kelley Moody). Whitmore is about to give a speech, and he doesn't want to give the one written by his team. He wants to speak from his heart. Both wife and campaign manager are wildly against that idea, and do everything in their power to stop him.
Beau Marie's Senator Whitmore is so senatorial and so real in this production you will swear he is an actual candidate with a moral compass running for office (wouldn't that be swell?). He guides his character with thoughtful kindness - we can see the conflict in a man who has been changed overnight by events he cannot control nor stop.
Kelley Moody is a delightful surprise. Her day gig is as morning meteorologist and anchor for CBS local news, and she is a terrific comedienne. She plays Whitmore's wife with wild abandon, pulling out all the comedy stops as the happy, sometimes tipsy, yet shrewd Senator's wife.
When it is her turn to deliver more meaningful dialogue, Moody nails that too. She is definitely someone to keep an eye on (no pun intended) in our desert enclave.
Tammy Hubler, no stranger to the theater (she tied with Loretta Swit for a DTL best actress award) has a nice turn as the dry-witted, steely campaign manager, Alex Klein. Some of the biggest laughs come from her head-on collisions with Moody's Sara, two strong-willed women who know exactly what they want. They complement each other nicely.
Rounding out the cast is James Owens playing three separate characters keeping the action moving along.
His delivery of a speech comparing religion to bottled water is hilarious as well as thought-provoking. His three roles are very well defined to the point audience members were checking their program to make sure it wasn't different actors.
Church and State runs without intermission for 90 minutes, and as stated previously, the audience belly-laughed for a solid 60 minutes. The other 30 we sobbed. I do not want to tell you why, I want you to go see it for yourself. It is very, very powerful.
This is turning out to be an amazing year for Palm Springs Theater; every production I have attended is as professional as Chicago, LA or New York Theater, and in some cases better. All are 100% worthy of the cost of the ticket, however DezArt Performs production of Church and State has rocketed to the top of my list of must-sees. If it doesn't give you all the feels, you're on too much medication.
DezArt Perfoms production of Church and State runs from November 9th through 18th on Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 2pm and 7:30pm, and Sundays at 2pm at Pearl McManus Theater in the historic Palm Springs Women's Club located at 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs, CA 92262.
Box office: 760-322-0179