Desert Ensemble Theatre Stages Two One Act Plays In Palm Springs

Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

Award-winning playwright Tony Padilla, and founder of Desert Ensemble Theatre, presents two of his One Act plays at the Pearl McManus theatre, in Palm Springs.

“Family Meeting”, that kicks off Act One, is billed as a drama. However, as this dysfunctional family play unfolds it’s clear that the audience is in, not only for a bumpy night of drama, but a night spiced with gallows humor, thanks to long standing, undiscussed family and parental issues which abound.

two-by-tony-final-copy_webThe story centers on Daniel (Alan Berry), a successful playwright and screenwriter, and family Patriarch, who has hit a bad patch and lost his writing mojo. He claims he is through with the shallowness of Hollywood and is moving back to New York and will write for the Broadway stage again.

Alan’s son Edward (Rob Hubler) is experiencing marital issues with his wife Karen (Denise Strand): They talk to one another, but they don’t listen to one another. Caught between warring parents, and the advice of an in-denial Grandfather, is their son Jason (Shawn Abramowitz), a surprisingly normal, recent college graduate, who is eager to escape the turmoil and discomfort of living at home. He has witnessed too many Albe-like “George and Martha” shouting sessions and needs to find a different environment.

“Family Meeting”, directed by Rosemary Mallett, is a talky and a wine-fuelled evening much like Albe’s play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” only not as dark, earthy, and scabrous. On the upside, Padilla’s dialogue is biting and witty; some of which account for the comedic but dark zingers. On the downside, there is just too much drinking of wine, for my money. It took years for actor’s not to rely on cigarettes as a solution to the vexing question of what do I do with my hands while onstage? I think wine or cocktail glasses might be the next crutch to be revisited.

Onstage drinking? Yes, absolutely when it’s intrinsic, however there is a reasonable limit as to how many times the audience can see the glasses being refilled – without seeing any ill-effects on the part of the actors – before they begin to disengage from following the story. Having said that, the ensemble cast of “Family Meeting” does, indeed, deliver nice performances. It’s just those intrusive wine glasses that keep refilling in between the dialogue that bother me. But, I digress.

In Act Two Padilla give us a 180 degree departure from dramedy to an over-the-top farce called “The Comeback”. The four member cast includes: Lee Rice as Nora, a faded reclusive actress looking to regain her previous glory days; Theresa Jewett as the ever-reliable wise-cracking Thelma, secretary to Nora; Theo Nowicky plays Count Orca, a phony psychic, out to scam Nora, and also plays Morgan, a part time house servant with a Boris Karloff accent and Steven Mc Millen as Johnny Bellini, partner-in-crime with Count Orca.

The onstage silliness, directed by playwright Padilla, is the stuff of classic farce. Padilla’s cast deliver echoes of characters that inhabited “Sunset Boulevard”, “All About Eve”, “Arsenic and Old Lace” plus a few other plays and movies. Farce isn’t an easy art form to pull off. As long as the actors believe in what they are doing and stay in the moment, the audience will buy it.

“Two by Tony” isn’t going to challenge your gray matter in a search for deep insights. It will however, entertain you if you just go with the flow. The production performs on March 20, 21, 22. For ticket and reservation information call 760-565-2476.

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