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Review: MID-CENTURY MODERNS at Desert Rose Playhouse

A Hilarious Tale of Personal Triumph Set to Beloved 60's Music

Review: MID-CENTURY MODERNS at Desert Rose Playhouse

Fun and personal triumph take center stage in Desert Rose Playhouse's current production of Mid-Century Moderns. Great writing, incredible voices, terrific acting and beloved songs combine to make this one of the most enjoyable visits to the theatre that I have had in a very long time. I saw the world premiere last night and I'm already anticipating my next visit during the show's brief five-week run!

At the beginning of the play, it is 1966 and Maryanne Popkecke (Christine Tringali Nunes) is at the grave of her recently deceased husband Ernie (Gary Powers). She decides to take his life insurance money and his car and leave Minnesota for the glamor of being a secretary in Santa Monica, a town she fantasizes about after seeing pictures of it in a magazine.

When she reaches Tulsa, she meets a man named Tom (James Owens) who sings like Tom Jones and exudes the singer's sexuality. She immediately goes for the carnal joys she missed through most of her marriage. The next morning he joins her on her automobile trip west, but their car breaks down in Palm Springs. While the car is being fixed, she meets some very friendly folks in the desert community. She is pondering whether she might actually stay there when Tom steals her car and her insurance money, thereby making her decision for her.

She finds lodging with a helpful landlady (the very humorous Dana Adkins) and meets a gay couple (Owens again and an amazing young actor named Carlos Garcia). The boys make bringing Maryanne out of her stodgy shell a project. Along with an amazing physical transition, much of which Ms. Nunes creates while facing upstage in a large chair, the actress undergoes a transition in attitude while singing "You Don't Own Me" - a song that absolutely brought enthusiastic shouts of encouragement from the opening night audience. Maryanne gets (well, demands) a job with a mid-century design firm and finds it is owned by the sexy architect (Robbie Wayne) whose photos in magazines she has drooled over. When the show finishes, he appears to be one of the prizes she has picked up in her journey of triumphing over her mousy married self.

I said that the play starts with Maryanne in a cemetery. It actually starts with a solo by a bellboy singing "Palm Springs Jump" in a highly energetic performance which includes dancing with and over a pair of suitcases. The young actor, Carlos Garcia, earned the audience's love with that number, and I suspect it was added for just that reason. He is a graduate of The Valley's prestigious Music Theatre University, a PSUSD after school program which takes the most promising high school performers and makes them into stars. Most of them will head out of town to colleges or even New York City, but if some of them stick around, they are going to raise the quality of Valley musicals by miles, judging by Mr. Garcia's performance.

All six actors have tremendous voices and acting chops which made Mark Christopher's original script a delightful experience. Maryanne does the heavy lifting, never leaving the stage except for the quickest of costume changes. In a word, she is TERRIFIC! The ghost of Maryanne's deceased husband keeps visiting her, at one point speaking to her while sitting on a toilet! His singing performance of "Wives and Lovers" by Burt Bacharach was so enjoyable that he became the villain we loved to hate. He also makes a delightful turn as another character which I won't reveal. Actually, all the actors except Nunes and Wayne play two or more characters, and the intimacy of a musical with just six actors is one of my favorite modes (Charlie Brown, Nunsense). Instead of a dancing chorus, a couple of solos were backed up by two or three of the principals singing doo-wops and the musical sound and focus on the principal singer were great.

Perhaps the biggest round of applause should be saved for Mark Christopher, an established writer/director/producer of film and television - and now stage! He has worked on the writing of Mid-Century Moderns for five years, and has directed two previous staged readings as well as the current production at Desert Rose Playhouse. He is a master of television sit-com repartee, and knows how to milk the full value out of such beloved songs as "How Can I Be Sure?", "Incense and Peppermints," "Windy," "I'm a Believer," and 16 others. There are several times the characters break the fourth wall and comment to the audience about how things are going such as "Oh, was that image too dark for a happy musical?". They had the audience eating out of their hands.

Matthew McLean's sets, Nick Wass's projections and Maria Pryor's lighting design all united to keep us aware of where we were, and the vibrant colors of Palm Springs were especially enjoyable. The set changes on a dimmed stage are unfortunate, but seemingly unavoidable and done as quickly as possible. In the early parts of the show I thought the lighting was a bit murky but I later realized that was a choice so that Palm Springs looked more vibrant and inviting once we got there. The costumes from Iconic Atomic were a hoot, and choreography by Miss DD Star was energetic and one more element insuring we knew we were in the 60's, including a hilarious acid trip.

The current production of Mid-Century Moderns plays at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs (the former Zelda's Nightclub in the Revivals mall). It runs through May 8, though the producers hope that it might eventually find a permanent home in Palm Springs. Tickets and further information are available at www.DesertRosePlayhouse.org. Be aware that this theatre is still requiring proof of vaccination at the door.



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From This Author - Stan Jenson

STAN JENSON has been acting for 56 years since his high school debut at the age of 14. In those ensuing years, he has appeared in several hundred productions across the United States and Australia including... (read more about this author)

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