‘Other Desert Cities’ shocking family drama at 2nd Story Theatre
Under Shea’s direction, the entire cast rises to the challenge.by Don Fowler, Warwick Beacon
The Wyeth family has gathered in the parents’ desert city of Palm Springs, escaping the Hollywood scene that has made them rich and famous, in Jon Robin Baitz’s tense play, “Other Desert Cities.”
It is Christmas time, and daughter Brooke (Rachel Morris) has a shocking gift to bestow on her family.
Brooke has written a memoir about a tragic event that has changed the entire dynamics of the family. It is to be published in short form in The New Yorker and then released as a book, much to the displeasure of her parents (Sharon Carpentier and Vince Petronio).
Lyman was a successful actor who became politically involved, earning an ambassador’s post and, with his wife Polly, holding fundraisers for the GOP.
Hanging over the family’s conservative image is the sixth character, unseen in the play. Son Henry had been implicated in an anti-war bombing resulting in a death and subsequently committed suicide.
The incident caused deep wounds. Brooke needed therapy to get beyond it. Polly’s sister (Joanne Fayan) turned to alcohol. Lyman and Polly went on with their conservative lives, blocking out the incident. Brother Trip (Ara Boghigian) moved on with his life, becoming a successful TV producer.
But then Brooke had to come home and rattle their cages, threatening to expose the family to the “truth.” As Brooke seeks their approval, her parents become intimidated and threatened. Brother Trip and Aunt Silda take sides.
Director Ed Shea has continued his trend of presenting the play in the round. The family is in the center of what appears to be a funny play about the prodigal daughter returning to the fold with news that will disrupt the status quo. And there are some very funny lines.
The situation, however, gets very tense in the second act as push comes to shove and other family secrets are revealed, right up to a shocking twist at the end that changes everything.
While Baitz tends to overwrite at times, he has created five carefully defined characters, all portrayed very well by the ensemble cast.
Petronio took over the important role of Lyman, the conflicted father, two weeks before opening, when another actor dropped out. On press night he seemed to be searching for a word, when Boghigian casually said, “Oh, you mean…,” as if it were part of the script. (And it may have been!) The point being that the two actors are pros who know how to keep the play running smoothly.
There is a lot that can be read into “Other Desert Cities.” The title alone has far-reaching implications. Each character represents a certain point of view and numerous moral issues are raised. This is one of those rare plays that will make you laugh (Fayan has a show-stopping line that breaks the tension) and makes you think.
Under Shea’s direction, the entire cast rises to the challenge.