The Legendary Marta Becket is set to Return to the Stage
By Steve Brown
The Sun Runner has received the news this week that the legendary Marta Becket, creator and operator of the Amargosa Opera House, in Death Valley Junction, California, is returning to the stage on Sunday, November 10. (We were originally informed her return would be on November 3, but she chose to push back the opening one week.)
Becket, whom The Sun Runner designated a cultural treasure of the desert back in 2010, after more than four decades on stage in the magical opera house she created, is returning to that stage after several years of controversy and tumult that seemed to mark the end of her hard won legacy.
Marta had been an artist, dancer, and performer on tour in 1967 when she discovered the auditorium of the Pacific Coast Borax Company that had been built between 1923-25, and had long been abandoned. She saw something through the window of that auditorium that led her to leave New York permanently and believe this isolated desert town held the key to her life's work.
She leased the auditorium and began hosting performances and dance classes for the scattered local families near Death Valley Junction. But it was in 1968 when Marta decided she always wanted an audience in her auditorium, that a true legend was born: the Amargosa Opera House.
Marta spent years painting the walls and ceiling of the old mining company auditorium to portray the audience of a night at the opera form the 16th century. There is the king and queen in royal attendance each night, along with the social butterflies of nobility, monks and nuns, gypsies, and even bullfighters and Indians, all caught in the act of life at the opera, painted beautifully upon these walls.
Her creation, along with the murals she has painted in the hotel, have made the Amargosa Opera House a one-of-a-kind irreplaceable and invaluable cultural resource. It's at the level of quality where it almost should be designated a national historical site or national monument, or at the very least have the property and its legacy guaranteed for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.
The isolation of Death Valley Junction (Marta was its sole full-time resident for years), Marta's advancing age, and the difficulty of overseeing operations from a distance with a volunteer non-profit board of directors, had placed her legacy, and the future of the Amargosa Opera House, in jeopardy through a property manager, Rich Regnell, who maneuvered himself into having what appeared to be near total control over the property, and Marta herself.
During Regnell's management of the property, there was an ongoing, and locally divisive, string of problems that plagued Death Valley Junction - a controversial deal with an algae farm that reportedly bilked its investors, rumored misuse of the funds of the non-profit association created by Marta to oversee the future of her town and her legacy, talk of abuse and isolation of Marta, in her late 80s, by Regnell and his girlfriend Mary Lee Chavez, reports of associates of Regnell squatting in the hotel, the duvious eviction of the original oerators of the cafe at the Amargosa Opera House Hotel, and more. It got to the point where our former assistant to the publisher, the late Barbara Buckland, a nurse by profession, began investigating the allegations of abuse by Regnell and his associates.
The Sun Runner received reports that Marta was often kept isolated in a hotel room with no phone and no television and spotty meal service, and as a result of the negative reports we were receiving, we issued recommendations in print and at the LA Travel & Adventure Show, that desert travelers no longer visit Death Valley Junction or stay at the Amargosa Opera House Hotel.
By that time, Marta retired from the stage, and Sandy Scheller, a passionate performer who had been doing shows with Marta, and another show highlighting Marta's career at the Amargosa Opera House, had been forced to end her performances at the opera house by Regnell, whose control over the town of Death Valley Junction seemed to increase dramatically as time went on. We sought responses form Regnell about his role in operations with the non-profit organization, and as manager of the hotel, opera house, and the entire town of Death Valley Junction, which the non-profit oversees, but a Bakersfield law firm hired by Regnell, refused to provide us with information that, in our opinion, should have been made public. Our attempts to dig up information about Regnell's involvement landed the magazine in the midst of a political storm that led some area locals who supported Regnell, to no longer work with the magazine.
Things appeared bleack for Marta and her legacy, as Scheller detailed in a message to us Friday morning:
"As we are learning, her former caregiver put Marta's life into jeopardy by ruining her finances, not making the repairs so desperately needed, cashing her social security checks [sic] for the past 3 years and the checks never saw the bank account, but mostly, drugging her to near death, food poisoning her, blocking her from any communication, making her retire from the stage and keeping her from her much loved piano and art, but mostly, attempting to turn Amargosa Opera House into a spectacle for ghost hunters and thriller[s] who know nothing or very little about the world of Marta, her art and culture."
But with the departure earlier this year of the reportedly gun-toting "manager" of the hotel and premises, Regnell, along with the return of the former board of directors who had seemingly gone AWOL during Regnell's reign at Death Valley Junction, the future of Marta's dream seemed to becomce brighter.
The Sun Runner is extremely pleased to announce that with Regnell's departure and the returned presence of the non-profit's original board of directors asserting control over the organization and Marta's important legacy, Marta has found the will to return to the stage she has made internationally known and respected.
"In April I read an article about Marta agreeing that she has been abused," Scheller noted. "With the help of the Inyo County, adult protection, the old board of directors coming forward, her new caregivers and the General Manager of Death Valley Junction, Marta is OUT of retirement and will return to her stage on November 3rd. Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
"The stage now belongs to Ms. Becket and she never has to fear of people invading DVJ (Death Valley Junction) for the wrong reasons," Scheller continued. "Still there is much to do with repairs, reconnecting with her fans and following, all without Facebook or social media. The Opera House has Marta and that's all that matters."
The Sun Runner will support all efforts to preserve Marta Becket's legacy, and the magical culturally significant work she has created at the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel in Death Valley Junction.
We are uncertain as to the working status of the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel's website, but it is a good source of additional information on Marta, her life, and Death Valley Junction:
We will keep our readers up to date on progress at Death Valley Junction.
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