Theater Review: FUTURE THINKING (Desert Ensemble Theater at the Palm Springs Cultural Center)

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by Jason Mannino on April 19, 2023

in Theater-Regional


Desert Ensemble Theater’s (DET) current production, Eliza Clark’s Future Thinking, closing on April 23, is the final play in their season of “West Coast Originals.” The company dedicated the 12th season to new work by under-produced West Coast playwrights, which included two world premieres, one California premiere and the current play, which appears to have only had one prior production when it world premiered at South Coast Rep in 2016. DET is one of very few Coachella Valley theater companies taking risks with innovative, new work. This alone is reason enough to go see Future Thinking this weekend.

Raul Valenzuela, Andrew Weiss

The play focuses on middle-aged super fan Peter (Raul Valenzuela), who finds himself in a makeshift interrogation room at the mercy of Comic Con security (Andrew Weiss) after violating the restraining order placed against him at the prior year’s festival by his favorite television starlet. Meanwhile, trapped by the demands that come with being a rising star, spoiled diva Chiara (J. Clare Merritt) is holed up in a hotel suite with her stage mom Crystal (Alexana Thomas) and bodyguard Sandy (Nick Edwards). Peter is determined to fulfill his destiny: a meeting with the twenty-three-year-old during which he can deliver her an important and mysterious message. All Chiara wants is for her mom and her bodyguard to get lost, preferably together. Everyone has a fantasy, all of which eventually collide with each other … and with reality.

J Clare Merritt, Raul Valenzuela

Director Richard Marlow does a fine job directing a strong cast that effectively navigates the play’s tragicomic undertones. While it seems an oxymoron, standout Merritt does a fine job embodying a character who is both narcissistic, empathetic, and compassionate. Valenzuela, who has often been seen entertaining desert audiences in musicals, has taken to straight plays. Turns out, regardless of the medium, he shines in both profundity and wittiness.

Alexana Thomas, Nick Edwards

The play still has a couple of challenges. The first act is overwrought with exposition, and the set changes — though well-choreographed and efficient — are too long, stymieing the pacing. However, the highly engaging second act leads to an unexpected, heartfelt, and satisfying end.

Nick Edwards, Raul Valenzuela

photos by Nathan Cox

Future Thinking
Camelot Theaters in the Palm Springs Cultural Center
2300 East Baristo Road in Palm Springs
Fri at 7:30; Sat at 2 & 7:30; Sun at 2
end on April 23, 2023
for tickets ($38.59 with service fee), call 760.565.2476 or visit Desert Ensemble

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