Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Palm Springs / Coachella Valley

A Case for the Existence of God
Dezart Performs
Review by Robert Sokol

Jacob Alden Roa and Dennis Renard
Photo by David A. Lee
In the two-hander A Case for the Existence of God, now on stage at Dezart Performs, Keith (Dennis Renard) and Ryan (Jacob Alden Roa) talk about many things. Parenting, families (both functional and not), financial insecurity, relationships, and privilege in many flavors are just some of their conversational touchstones. The one thing they do not specifically discuss is the concept of God, or a god, in anything but a colloquial "taken in vain" way.

It makes the title chosen by playwright Samuel D. Hunter, author of The Whale and A Bright New Boise, into a bit of a head-scratcher, but in no way diminishes the core richness of his two characters or the arc of their relationship.

Ryan, a straight, white, thirty-something yogurt plant worker, wants to buy a piece of land with which he claims some family history. Keith is a queer, Black mortgage broker. They meet during pick-up time at the daycare center their daughters attend and Keith offers to discuss loan options with Ryan.

Professionally congenial at first, their connection threatens to blow up when Ryan, more than a bit naïve and under-educated, becomes overwhelmed and then threatened by the complexities of modern real estate transactions. Keith talks him down from quitting before he even starts, sowing the seeds of the complex friendship to come.

Renard and Roa evolve a relationship between the two men that is a beautiful blend of subtlety, grace and humor. They build on the foundation of Hunter's well-written dialogue and the deft direction of Michael Shaw, inviting you to empathize with these two immensely decent characters who are supporting each other while reaching for their individual goals.

For Ryan, in the throes of divorce and a looming custody challenge, that means creating a homestead to share with his two-year-old daughter. Keith, meanwhile, navigates the treacherous waters of single-parent adoption riven with racial and identity politics. Both men are almost blindly driven in their quests, though with differing approaches, and they find mutual support and growing camaraderie in sharing their joys, frustrations, and mistakes along the way.

In a 2022 statement on the play, Hunter wrote "culturally we don't have a language for platonic male love, especially between a straight man and a gay man. The expectations of gender norms compacts men's–and especially straight men's–emotional and spiritual lives as they grow up."

This plays out in scene after scene as the two men continue to reveal themselves, risking awkward questions and well-intentioned blunders as well as slights and deceptions both purposeful and unintentional. Brilliant as scene partners, Roa and Renard excel in these moments, inviting you to lean in and really listen to what they are trying to say to each other and about themselves.

The intimacy is enhanced by the compressed space they share. Shaw keeps the pair mostly seated and rarely more than a few feet apart, giving audiences the sense of eavesdropping on private lives.

Nowhere is this more striking than a searing monologue in which Renard describes with heartrending anguish and disturbing specificity what Keith feels at the loss of his foster daughter. Ambiguous in the telling as to whether he is relating a nightmare foretold or a chronicle of recent past, Renard is eerily detached and yet completely present in the tragedy.

Shaw also creates truly seamless transitions between scenes with plays of light and sound and thoughtfully choreographed movements. It is only toward the end where, following scenes of poignant tenderness and violent catharsis, Hunter "opens" the action with changes of setting and staging to a metaphysical conclusion that, while optimistic, feels clumsily unsatisfying and out of sync with the nuanced storytelling that precedes it.

A Case for the Existence of God runs through March 10, 2024, at Dezart Performs, The Pearl McManus Theater, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs CA. Remaining performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., and Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $48. For tickets and information, please visit or call 760-322-0179, Extension 1.