South Pacific at Desert Stages does little to rock the boat

I'm sorry. It was my intention to review Desert Stages' production of South Pacific this week, but I'm afraid I was so distracted by the obnoxious teenager who talked and yawned and text-messaged her way through the show's opening-night performance that I missed much of what was happening onstage.

Desert Stages is set up in a traditional theater-in-the-round configuration, so that I, seated across the room from this loathsome imp, had an unfortunately unobstructed view of her appalling behavior. She had a front-row seat which, at this particular theater, means that she was essentially seated onstage, in her case mostly draped over the spindly frame of her profoundly bored-looking companion, a scrawny bad-boy type with a more-than-passing resemblance to Scott Baio circa 1977. It was plain that Joanie loved Chachi; at points, she was practically seated in his lap.

Even without all the eye-rolling and non-stop chatter, this gal would have been hard to miss. She was dressed in a shocking yellow babydoll that barely covered what one of my mother's nurses used to call "her glory"; matching platform wedgies; and enough eye makeup to choke a mule. In all honesty, she looked smashing — a beautiful young girl with a real sense of style who, if she hadn't been acting so boorishly, I might have simply admired and quickly forgotten.

But then, during Anny Franklin and Terry Temple's pretty duet of "Some Enchanted Evening," Little Miss Teeny Dress took out her cell phone and began text-messaging someone while the performers stood less than a foot away from her. Up 'til that point, I'd been willing to forgive her bored posture and public displays of affection; I figured she was probably there because her mom was in the chorus, or something. But now all bets were off. I wanted to smack this little tart, even while I was riveted by her bold lack of manners. Chatting with her boyfriend while Don Schore and Frank Aaron attempted comic bits; frowning extravagantly during the ensemble's loose-limbed attempts at Lynzee Paul's rather routine choreography; staring into her own lap while tiny Helen Sokol and Nick Hildebrandt harmonized sweetly, she was a live-action demonstration of What Not to Do at the Theater.

Certainly I'd have been less distracted if this had been a better-than-decent production, which it wasn't. True, the leads, especially Franklin and Temple, had lovely singing voices and plenty of stage presence, and I forgot all about the horrible girl across the way for a few minutes when Kendrick Cornelius sang "Younger Than Springtime" in a pure, sweet voice. I was also distracted by Ginger Muth's marvelous Bloody Mary, who was so charming she almost made me like "Happy Talk," a tune that's always bugged me.

But most of the time, my attention was hijacked by the chick across the room. I wanted to corner her at intermission and tell her, "If I see you text­ing so much as a comma during Act Two, I'm going to shove that cell phone straight up your ass," but to perform this makeshift colonoscopy I'd have had to march directly across the stage during the performance, and that would have deeply embarrassed my friend Michelle, a fellow theater critic who was seated with me. And anyway, Scott Baio might have punched me in the knee.

Okay, so I'm a fogy. But what person of any age or attitude wouldn't be offended on behalf of poor Matthew Harris, whose "Honey Bun" drag routine was utterly ignored by Bitty Skirt, who was too busy texting to look up? Further along in Act Two, while Franklin reprised "Some Enchanted Evening," as a solo, Little Miss Future Generation added to her rude repertoire by eating a colossal candy ring she'd been wearing. And I don't mean she daintily nibbled at her edible jewelry; I mean she fellated the thing, madly licking and sucking it through three entire musical numbers. I almost levitated with rage.

On the other hand, maybe I owe this awful child a debt of gratitude. I've seen South Pacific before, and enough forgettable community theater musicals to last me several lifetimes. This evening will remain memorable for me because it was the night I saw the future in all its horrible glory.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela