Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Rancho Mirage" at Old Log Theater

Mirage: noun. 1) an optical effect that is sometimes seen at sea, in the desert, or over a hot pavement, that may have the appearance of a pool of water or a mirror in which distant objects are seen inverted, and that is caused by the bending or reflection of rays of light by a layer of heated air of varying density. 2) something illusory and unattainable like a mirage.

The title of the new play Rancho Mirage by Steven Dietz refers to a gated community outside an unnamed city in a desert area. But the mirage in the title also refers to the lives of three couples. All three have a secret, whether it's financial troubles or marital troubles, that is slowly revealed throughout the course of the play, until they and we realize that their lives are not what they seem, but simply a mirage. Currently receiving its regional premiere at the Old Log Theater, which is under new management and quite obviously stepping up their game, Rancho Mirage is a darkly funny look at American life, embodied by a fantastic cast of local favorites (and one former TV star). It seems that there are now two theaters in the Southwest suburbs worth the drive from my home on the opposite side of town.

The entire play takes place at a dinner party (although no actual dinner is consumed) at the seemingly beautiful and perfect home of Diane (Stacia Rice, now acting opposite her second desperate househusband) and Nick (James Denton). Their guests are Louise (Ann Michels) and Trevor (David Mann), also residents of Rancho Mirage, and Pam (Mo Perry) and Charlie (Joshua James Campbell). The pleasant and friendly conversation among this group of friends soon gets real as it's revealed that Diane and Nick are about to lose their home, Louise and Trevor are separated, and Pam and Charlie are struggling with the decision about whether or not to have children (and in fact vacillate so much between the desire to enjoy their lives without children and a sense of obligation to follow their friends into the expected role of parents, that I had a hard time figuring out who these characters really were). Secrets, mishaps, stories, and arguments all unfold as these six people are forced to face the mirage of their lives. Diane poignantly sums it up when she says, "I used to think that our life was this beautiful thing that hasn't happened yet. But there is no other thing, our life is this." The good news is that now that they see through the mirage, they can work to make their lives more real. (Another way to say this is "no day but today."

Joshua James Campbell, Mo Perry, James Denton,
Stacia Rice, Ann Michels, and David Mann
I know and love all of these actors (although I'm more familiar with David as a director than an actor), so I'd drive across town to see this cast in anything. Stacia just shines in everything she does (including her role in the locally filmed web series Theater People), and brings depth to the conflicted Diane. Ann is very funny as this over-the-top character, constantly waving her arms and unintentionally insulting her friends. Mo is a master of the look (keep an eye on her as her character patiently waits to be poured a glass of wine). James has grown beyond his TV role into a legitimate member of the Twin Cities theater community (if only the audience would let him, they erupted in laughter so long when he uttered the word "housewives" that it threatened to derail the story, despite the cast's best efforts to keep it on track). Josh is charming as ever as the relatively naive Charlie, and David exhibits dry wit as everyman Trevor (who just happens to have taken up sewing). The cast works and plays well together in this ensemble piece, as directed by Artistic Director R. Kent Knutson.

Rancho Mirage continues through December 7. If you live in the Southwest suburbs, there's no reason not to check out the new Old Log Theater. I found it worth the drive to the charming lake town of Excelsior to see this fantastic cast in this very funny play. Old Log's season continues with A Year with Frog and ToadAlmost, Maine; and Steel Magnolias. I will definitely be keeping my eye on them.

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