House of the Rising Son offers Provocative Comedy Complete with Insects, Ghosts and Southern Charm…

What lessons can humans in general, and gay humans in particular, glean from parasites? Apparently lots, according to LA-based playwright Tom Jocobson in hisHouse of the Rising Son currently playing in Palm Springs’ The Desert Rose Playhouse. While the play is overly ambitious, and at times unwieldy, the Palm Springs production deftly delivers under the direction of Jim Strait.

The four-actor, multi-role production is well cast. John Ferrare plays Trent Varro, an entomologist whose focus is parasites, but is really a philosopher in disguise. Terry Huber is Felix Martin, Trent’s one-generation-removed love interest. Ironically, Terry is a fundraiser who expresses animosity against wealth while expressing an abnormally strong interest in ghosts and paranormal activity. Rounding out the cast are Terry Huber as Garrett Varro, Trent’s father, and Garnett Smith (who gives the strongest performance) as the dynastic grandfather Bowen Varro.

Opening in Los Angeles where Trent is giving an entomological lecture on the habits of parasites and their beneficial functions for humans, a bored Felix is more focused on Trent’s crotch than on the specimens on the slideshow. Like a parasite himself, Trent invites Felix to join him in New Orleans to “meet the family.” Full of foreshadowing, the audience soon begins to suspect entrapment instead of invitation. But by whom? Who is the host and who is the parasite?

The scene soon shifts to the French Quarter of New Orleans, complete with Mardi Gras revelry, Anne Rice Mystery and Tennessee Williams camp. The only things missing are the Paul Cadmus nude drawings on the walls. But then again, we must give the young playwright some license. He is clearly familiar with New Orleans only from predictable typecasting. All the expected clichés are here: “a famous café” (Café Du Monde); “a famous bar” (Pat O’Brien’s); Beignets; coffee with chicory; St. Louis Cemetery; Marie Laveau; and Galatoire’s. Nonetheless, the romp is fun, and these stereotypes serve as shortcuts for the audiences’ cultural emersion of New Orleans. There are twists, turns, reveals and delightful surprises; so, mum’s the word.

Suffice it to say, the plotline is complex, and a bit contrived. Tom Jacobson’s uses of dichotomies are a bit much for one play: parasite/ host; loss/ benefit; reality/ illusion; Southern/ West Coast; gay/ straight; generational attitudes of old/ older; interior reality/ façade; gentile Southern hospitality/ entrapment; weak/ fittest (as in survival of). What results, predictably, is somewhat a mess. Despite this, the Desert Rose Playhouse delivers a strong evening of comedy, philosophy, history and pre-Halloween creepiness. The comedy is a delight, particularly in the hands of such skills actors. Catch the production before it closes on October 27th (2013). Click here for dates and ticket information.

Armin’s Grade: A

Theatre Review by Armin Callo, Influx Contributing Editor

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