Entire cast, played by Loren Freeman, Ruth Braun, Deb Harmon, Kimberly Cole, Kam Sisco, Adina Lawson, Yo Younger, Francesca Amari, Melanie Blue, Phylicia Mason, Miguel Adrballo. Photo by Mike Thomas Photography
By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association

Co-founders Jim Strait and Paul Taylor of the Valley’s only LBTGQ live theatre company has a winning production on their hands making it a great way to announce their mutual retirement from the award-winning Desert Rose Playhouse (DRP), in Cathedral City. When the time comes, everyone would like to hang out his or her ‘Gone Fishin’ sign and leave their creative endeavors on a high note.

Mr. Strait and Mr. Taylor have done precisely that.  After six years of serving the valley’s LBTGQ community with ‘its ‘blood, sweat, tears, as well as the ecstasy and adrenaline high that only comes with another opening night in a theatre.  They deserve our Mahalo’s for six wonderful seasons of a job well done. Please note: Desert Rose Playhouse will still be producing plays for the LBTGQ audiences of the Coachella Valley.  Messrs. Strait and Taylor have been practicing their Hawaiian Island dialects which, no doubt, will come in handy in their retirement years.

The changing of the guard at the Desert Rose Playhouse, so to speak, comes after the closing night performance of DRP’s current ‘Hot Summer Nights’ annual production series with “Women Behind Bars,” written by Tom Eyre, and co-directed by Jim Strait and Robbie Wayne, and produced by Paul Taylor.

Director Strait has assembled a cast of actors that the writers and directors of those 1930’ and 40’s Noir dramas about femme fatales and life in prisons (a staple of Warner Bros. movies back then) would be proud to cast in their films.
The story is a simple ‘boilerplate’ script. In short, it’s all about women in prison sniping at one another and complaining about everyone and everything behind bars, as well as those who are living on the outside.  Most claim to be innocent, btw. The Matron mockingly says they all say that; and what the Matron says goes!  All the ladies are serving time and just waiting to get out.

The meat and beauty of this over-the-top comedy lies in the sensational performances of the actors.  Comedy-farce productions always walk a very narrow line between being true to script/story, but, still staying within the zip code of reality or believability.

This production is a hoot of a comedy about serious subject matters inherent in their situations and reasons for being in prison. Set in 1950’s when America’s female population couldn’t possibly be anything but the sweet, wives, mothers, and in-laws, and/or our next door neighbors (or so Hollywood would have us believe).

Playwright Eyen, sort of tosses that “Father Knows Best” dialogue out the window with “Women Behind Bars.” The movie version played it as far more believable due to the time setting of the 50’s. This DRP version is a heck of lot funnier in 2018. It was a kinder and gentler America back then, not now, however, There is nothing actors like to do better than to chew the heck out of the scenery.  This talented cast does exactly that to the delight of the audience.  “Women Behind Bars,” is chock full of sexual double-entendres, double-takes, and asides to the audience in language that would make a stevedore blush.  So a word to the uninitiated: there is nudity, and very strong vernacular-of-the-streets language being hurled from the stage.  So leave the kiddies and grandma at home.

Each cast member brings their special talent and acting gift to the production.  They are all a delight to watch and enjoy.  They include are in alphabetical order:  Francesca Amari as Ada; Melanie Blue as Guadalupe; Ruth Braun as Louise; Kimberly Cole as Jo-Jo; Loren Freeman as The Matron; Deborah Harmon as Blanche; Adina Lawon as Granny/Warden; Phylicia Mason as Mary-Eleanor; Kam Sisco as Cheri; and Yo Younger as Gloria.

“Women Behind Bars” is a true acting ensemble effort.  Individually they’re very talented, but as an acting ensemble unit, they’re a well-oiled, comedy performing machine.

The technical credit for “Women Behind Bars” boasts some of the best techies in the Valley. The Set Design is by Toby Griffin, Lighting Design by Phil Murphy, Sound Design by Jim Strait, Costumes by Jennifer Stowe, and Wigs by Toni Milano.

“Women Behind Bars” is performed without an intermission at Desert Rose Playhouse, Cathedral City, CA. and runs through July 29th.

For reservations and ticket information call 760-202-3000 or go online to desertroseplayhouse.org