By Dee Jae Cox
The concept of ‘Gay and Lesbian Theatre’ does not have a long history in American culture. Lillian Hellman’s play, “The Children’s Hour” was the first classic drama of note in American theatre. First staged on Broadway in 1934, it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and though the suicide of the self confessed lesbian did fulfill the expectation of the time, even the Pulitzer committee considered the topic too taboo for the award. Matt Crowley’s “Boys in the Band,” was first produced off Broadway in 1968 featuring Palm Springs resident and acclaimed actor Laurence Luckinbill, who originated the role of Hank. The play made a heralded breakthrough with its portrayal of a cast comprised entirely of gay male characters. It was a shocking, yet highly successful drama that went on to open doors for future gay and lesbian playwrights who were eager to see their own stories reflected on the stage, in ways that were not always depicted as tragic and abhorrent.
In contemporary times, many major cities have at least one theatre that predominately produces work that is directed towards the LGBTQ community. The Coachella Valley has been fortunate to call The Desert Rose Playhouse our own. The Desert Rose Playhouse is the Coachella Valley’s only existing theatre that is dedicated to the production of shows targeted towards the LGBTQ community. It was founded in 2010 by theatre professionals Jim Strait and Paul Taylor who had moved to Palm Springs to retire, but found their love of theatre prompted them to stay engaged. After a stint with the Thorny Theatre, founded by Philanthropist Playwright, Arch Brown, Strait and Taylor decided that they could not let the much-needed mission of an LGBTQ theatre in the Coachella Valley, die out when the Thorny closed. So Strait and Taylor went about gathering supporters and donors, and obtaining their 501(c)3 nonprofit status. The Desert Rose Playhouse opened in Rancho Mirage in 2012 with a record-breaking six-month run of the parody musical “Dirty Little Showtunes!”
In the years since opening the Desert Rose Playhouse, Strait and Taylor have produced an impressive 36 main-stage productions and 22 special events. Now having just finished their sixth consecutive season, the two are retiring and handing the reigns of the Desert Rose Playhouse over to renowned theatre artist, Robby Wayne. Wayne, who has an extensive background with directing, producing, choreography and performance, indicates that his goal is to continue the current mission of bringing quality LGBTQ theatre to the Coachella Valley, to produce more musicals and to continue to broaden their community outreach. None of the men have considered the goal of appealing to a Gay audience to be their only objective. As the establishment and reputation of the theatre grew, they began to attract a broader audience. Taylor, stated that he wanted the Desert Rose Playhouse to be a place for the LGBTQ community to see themselves and the straight community to be able to say, ‘oh that’s what this is about.’
Strait and Taylor’s final production as Artistic & Managing Directors, “Women Behind Bars,” will be running through July 29, 2018. Wayne has already scheduled an array of shows for next season so be sure to get your season pass.
The Desert Rose Playhouse located at 69-620 Hwy 111, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270.
For Reservations: (760) 202-3000 – www.desertroseplayhouse.org
Dee Jae Cox is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director of The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project.