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Rancho Mirage. The dialogue in Rancho Mirage

is swift and clever and the characters are vivid, if not particularly deep or likable. But while the trials and tribulations of the three couples involved are standard-issue — infidelity, money problems — they're presented in ways that are completely, off-the-map absurd. We start off in the expensively furnished, gated-community home of Nick and Diane and learn that they're bankrupt: Nick, an architect, has had no work for some time now. Trevor and Louise, who soon arrive, are having marital problems. Charlie and Pam harbor shifting and conflicting ideas about having children. So there are big issues, including who will take care of whose children if tragedy strikes, and also idiotic little ones, like why teenage Julie is babysitting for Trevor and Louise and neglecting Nick and Diane — who, Diane passionately asserts, have dibs on the girl's services. Even the dopey arguments mask deeper grievances and griefs; there's a lot these people don't tell each other, and many things aren't at all the way they're discussed and remembered. So it seems we're in for a black-hearted comic farce: Clearly these people will end up tearing each other apart, and that should be fun to watch, even if the warring-couples device isn't particularly original. But the second act is tinged with real sadness even as the plot twists remain ridiculous, and the characters become less cartoonish. Playwright Steven Dietz is a cunning plotter, and the structure of Rancho Mirageto some extent explains its emotional effect. In act one, you have a centrifugal movement. But instead of proceeding to the logical endgame in the second act — hysterical sobbing, crazed recriminations, someone brandishing a knife or gun — Dietz simply changes the direction of his spinning. Now the currents are centripetal, a return to a center of doubtless temporary but still touching gentleness and peace and an ending as satisfying as sweet cream. Presented by Curious Theatre Company through December 7, 1080 Acoma Street, 303-623-0524, curioustheatre.org. Reviewed November 7.
 
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