Other Desert Cities
2nd Story's superb production of "Other Desert Cities" reminds us that while the truth may set you free, it may also open Pandora's box.by Christopher Verleger, EDGE
“Telling the truth is a very expensive hobby.”
That is just one of many unforgettable spoken lines from Jon Robin Baitz’s powerful family drama, “Other Desert Cities,” now at 2nd Story Theatre.
If you are convinced the wealthy and successful have it easier, the Wyeths will certainly give you reason to think again. This privileged group isn’t necessarily unhappy but emotionally guarded, not so much because of their fame or fortune, but rather in spite of it.
Before retiring to Palm Springs and becoming Republican party power players who frequently dined with the likes of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Polly (Sharon Carpentier) and Lyman (Vince Petronio) Wyeth made their mark writing for and acting in motion pictures. Their novelist daughter from New York, Brooke (Rachel Morris), has just recovered from a crippling bout of depression, and their son Trip (Ara Boghigian), a reality show producer, struggles to remain loyal to his self-involved sister and his parents incorrigible need to keep up appearances.
What begins as a routine family gathering soon turns into a heated war of words and accusations when Brooke announces that her latest book is actually non-fiction and based on her late brother, Henry, a leftist whose anti-war antics implicated him in a deadly bombing that eventually caused him to take his own life. Armed with the input and avid encouragement of her all-knowing, alcoholic Aunt Silda (Joanne Fayan), Brooke fails to gain endorsement from her parents, who become enraged by her intent to revisit their family tragedy, especially in print, and threaten to disown her.
Family secrets are a staple of dramatic theater, but while this may not be uncharted territory, the explosive interplay of this fiercely well-spoken, educated, politically divided cast of characters makes for an electrifying experience that leaves the audience shocked and breathless, and like the Wyeth family, hanging on every word in search of the truth.
Ed Shea masterfully and painstakingly directs these five stellar performers whose raw, cathartic emotion conveys unbridled principle, resolute stoicism and festered resentment that culminates in recognized acceptance and an inherent understanding of family dynamics.
The always magnificent Carpentier has never been better as the caring albeit conflicted Polly, and Fayan is equally eloquent as screwed up yet strident Aunt Silda. Petronio’s profound performance as Lyman tirelessly tugs at your heartstrings and Boghigian portrays Trip with a fitting combination of charm and warranted exasperation.
As the self-appointed arbiter of her family’s hidden history, an earnest Morris shows both force and an essential fragility in her portrayal of Brooke.
2nd Story’s superb production of “Other Desert Cities” reminds us that while the truth may set you free, it may also open Pandora’s box.