The new regime at Old Log Theater scores a home run with its current production of “Rancho Mirage” by Steven Dietz. It’s a strong play, given an impeccable staging with one of the strongest casts possible in the Twin Cities.
Nationally recognized, Dietz is a former Minneapolis resident who began his career at the Playwrights’ Center. This is only the second production of “Rancho Mirage” and Dietz has continued to make revisions all through rehearsals. He has created a scathing satire of life in a gated community that is frequently hilarious and occasionally moving.
The script tells the story of three couples, close friends, who over the course of an evening together reveal an abundance of secrets. This is not the most original premise for a play, but Dietz handles it in a fresh way.
There is a couple with financial troubles (Stacia Rice and James Denton), one with marital troubles (Ann Michels and David Mann) and one having trouble conceiving (Mo Perry and Joshua James Campbell).
The characters keep up a witty banter even as long-concealed truths are exposed. The second act is brilliantly structured, as the relationships unravel and layers of additional secrets come out.
Michels almost steals the show, playing loud, domineering and very funny. Rice is her equal as a sharp, passive-aggressive socialite. Perry is in their league as a less sophisticated woman, something of a sad sack.
Denton is strong in maintaining his character’s macho jocularity in the face of his world collapsing. Mann is equally successful as a loudmouth jokester. Campbell nicely plays his character’s fervent Christianity without being condescending.
Director R. Kent Knutson molds these talents into a cohesive ensemble. They all seem to be enjoying each other and work well together in service of the play. Knutson’s fast-paced direction maintains the comic edge of the banter, even as the play becomes darker and more serious.
Erik Paulson’s set is the perfect embodiment of the cold, sterile façade that is these characters’ lives.
The one fault in the play lies in its ending. It is clever enough, but something more meaningful and profound is needed to resolve these conflicts. Nonetheless, this is one of the best shows of the season.
William Randall Beard writes about theater.