“I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason / bringing something we must learn …” So says the opening line of Wicked’s emotional power ballad “For Good.” It’s a song about two people realizing how much their union has changed them as individuals. Tony Padilla’s original work For a Reason, now playing as part of Desert Ensemble Theatre Company’s eighth season, has a similar theme.
The setting is the home of Pablo Luna (played by Charles Herrera), a successful but cantankerous old man of an author. He has some physical limitations and is in need of consistent in-home care. His needs have thus far been taken care of by his daughter-in-law (the wife of his adopted son who has evidently passed away at some point), but it’s clear from her first entrance that this woman is in need of a life of her own. The problem is, Pablo is irascible and difficult, and everyone he interviews for the gig is hastily dismissed.
Enter Aaron Watson (played by Shawn Abramowitz), a sassy young man who’s clearly not afraid of his new potential boss. In fact, he can dish it out and take it just as smoothly as Pablo. He also seems to be running away from something. Why else would a good-looking man in his prime take an antisocial position as a live-in caregiver?
Shawn Abramowitz as Aaron Watson trades barbs with Pablo.
The two men hit it off right away, though their common language, it seems, is bickering. From Aaron’s choice of the DVD they watch on their first night together to their views on just about every topic imaginable, they exchange quips and barbs in rapid-fire succession. But somehow through it all, we get a sense that each are learning something worthwhile about themselves.
As Pablo, Charles Herrera commands the stage. Not only is he playing a character much older than his real self, his use of a cane to subtly show off the old man’s physical ailments is masterfully done. This is the first time I’ve seen Herrera in a non-singing role, and his dramatic talents are just as sharp as his musical-comedy ones.
Shawn Abramowitz, who plays Aaron (evidently he had to step into the role at some point; he was not mentioned as a cast member in the show’s initial press) and also directed the show, skillfully wears two hats: As Pablo’s caregiver, he provides just the right amount of attitude and sincerity. The character has a bigger chip on his shoulder than he’s willing to accept, and the performance is subtle but effective. As a director, he effortlessly navigates the action on the stage as the story unfolds, providing a deft visual landscape that marries perfectly with Padilla’s script.
The role of Sandra, Pablo’s daughter in law, is wonderfully brought to life by Leanna Rodgers. Having taken care of Pablo in between caregivers, Sandra is both lonely and exhausted, traits that are palpable in Rodgers’ expert performance.
Bonnie Gilgallon plays Giselle, the voice of wisdom in the play.
The show’s voice of wisdom comes in the form of Giselle (played by Bonnie Gilgallion), a knockout escort who used to be Pablo’s therapist. She’s called over to settle an argument between Pablo and Aaron, and her insight is wide-reaching. Gilgallion’s performance is first-rate; she livens up the action in much-needed ways and really delivers.
All aspects of the show are terrific, from the cozy, believable scenic design by Lauren Bright to Frank Cazares’ costumes and Ashton J. Bolanos’ lighting. It’s a short play — around 60 minutes with no intermission — but the script is tight, the actors are exceptional, and the experience is definitely thought provoking. Recommended.
For a Reason runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., through Sunday, Feb. 17, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. For tickets, call 760-565-2476 or visit detctheatre.org.