Truth hurts in 'Rancho Mirage'

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Time: now. Scene: a handsome, expensive home in any American suburb — here it's called “Rancho Mirage,” which is also the name of Steven Dietz's new play, now running at Curious Theatre as part of a rolling world premiere. (Curious is part of the National New Play Network which promises at least three productions in a year for chosen new plays. This process gives a new work exposure enough to give it legs.)

As lights go up on the first scene, Diane (C. Kelly Leo) and Nick Dahner (Bill Hahn) are fussing over dinner party preparations as they await the arrival of their good friends Trevor (David Russell) and Louise Parker Neese (Karen Slack) and Charlie (Erik Sandvold) and Pam Caldwell (Emily Paton Davies).

Tension is apparent from the first conversation and it increases as the other players appear. Dietz, a Colorado-born playwright who University of Texas and is one of America's most produced theater writers, is known for his crisp, sharp dialogue and unexpected story twists.

He is quoted in a Curious publication, when questioned about his inspiration for “Rancho Mirage”: “What would happen when a group of friends — good friends — ended up together and started telling the whole truth to each other?”

His picture of a group of well-off American 30- to 40-somethings seems spot-on as they talk about money problems, marital issues, minor envies, ambitions, children, inability to have children, travel, babysitters and more. They are competitive, sympathetic and ornery in turn as the evening wears on. One thinks one has the tale figured out and then Dietz takes one in another direction.

The cast is filled with mature, extremely skilled actors, who develop each character in depth and make delivery of Dietz's lines zing. Director Christopher Leo keeps the pace fast and steady, if a bit frantic, as ideas and experiences are discussed one after the other by a group you almost like — most of the time.

“Rancho Mirage” invites the audience to listen in on an evening they may have experienced before in their own lives. This is well-crafted contemporary theater at its best.

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