Fans of Katherine Stewart’s modest little theater company in Mesa, Desert Rose Theatre, know never to expect something light, fluffy and vapid.
Even at that most innocuous time of the year, the holidays, Desert Rose’s repertoire of Shakespeare, Wilde and left-of-center classics leaves little room for the usual box-office belly stuffing of most theaters proffering safer stuff.
Last year’s award-winning “Christmas 1943” — in which wartime servicemen put on their own Christmas show — was “as fluffy as we get, really,” Stewart says.
This time, Stewart’s troupe is tackling “Joyful Noise,” Tim Slover’s comic drama about composer George Frideric Handel and his most famous composition, “Messiah.”
Think “Amadeus,” only about a down-on-his-luck composer who finds controversy and, ultimately, redemption with a religious oratorio he cranked out in less than a month. Though “Messiah” was originally an Easter piece, these days it has become a classical staple of Christmas.
“It’s not so much about Christmastime as about this musical piece of work,” says Stewart, who directs and stars. “It’s almost more political than spiritual. The real argument is about art and politics.”
Hints of sex scandal, a religious uproar — “Joyful Noise” isn’t exactly “A Christmas Carol.”
Then again, Stewart says she wouldn’t be averse to bringing something like “Carol” to her 55-seat strip mall playhouse. Just don’t expect it to be the usual Scroogey schlock. (“It’s going to be the ghost story Dickens wrote,” Stewart says. “It’s not going to be a feel-good holiday piece.”)
If “Joyful Noise” is only tangentially related to the holiday season, that’s not to say Stewart isn’t looking for a Christmas miracle.
After a new landlord upped rents to prohibitive levels, Desert Rose Theatre will be homeless — and likely go on hiatus — after this show closes.
IF YOU GO
What: “Joyful Noise”
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, closing Dec. 29
Where: Desert Rose Theatre, 1320 W. University Drive, Mesa
Information: (480) 452-9649 or www.desertrosetheatre.com.