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Other Desert Cities

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Photo by Joan Marcus
Stacy Keach (Lyman Wyeth) and Rachel Griffiths (Brooke Wyeth)
Stacy Keach (Lyman Wyeth) and
Rachel Griffiths (Brooke Wyeth)
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Review by Tulis McCall

It’s the choice on the highway that gets Brooke Wyeth (Rachel Griffiths). There is the exit for Palm Springs, and then there is the sign that points down the highway and reads “Other Desert Cities.” It is the second one she longs to follow. She never does. She slides off the highway into the created city of Palm Springs, where country clubs and fake lawns and Republicans rub elbows.

It is here that her parents Polly (Stockard Channing) and Lyman (Stacy Keach) have chosen to retire. By that I mean they have chosen to take refuge from the world. He is a former actor, former spokesperson for the Republican Party and California Wine, and a former ambassador for Bush I. She is a California Republican wife who has now turned her attention to perfecting her tan and being more or less disdainful of anything that smacks of left wing.

Lest you thing these two are heartless, be it known that they have also taken in Polly’s sister Silda (Judith Light) who is fresh from her most recent recovery and plum out of luck in every way. The two sisters make George and Martha look like kindergarteners, but Silda is never banished.

Anyway, it is Christmas in Palm Springs, 2004, complete with sun, a fake tree and presents that are all wrapped in metal-toned paper. Besides Brooke, her brother Trip (Thomas Sadoski) is visiting from Los Angeles. Trip is the youngest child, everyone’s favorite (for good reason) and the producer of a reality television show Jury of Your Peers in which real people go to TV court and the jury is made up of “celebrities”. Trip knows this is a piece of fluff and he also knows he works damn hard at it. Of all the Wyeth folk, Trip is the one with the most stable cargo.

Brooke has brought with her, not only the trauma of unresolved issues from her past, but copies of a new book that has not been published. It began as a novel, but has turned into a memoir that involves her older brother Henry, who committed suicide many years ago. Henry is a subject that her parents don’t want to discuss, and Polly has brought her book to them for their blessing.

Hello? It sounds preposterous until you sit through everyone’s reactions and their accompanying reasoning. My family doesn’t talk like this. We are polite to each other when we are face to face. Not these folks. The gloves were removed years ago. Also removed were the memories of what really happened: who hurt whom and what wounds have not healed; what kindnesses have gone unacknowledged and what love has not been spoken. All of it is so close to the surface that it only takes a casual nudge to cause an eruption.

The Wyeths, however, are not all primary colors. These people possess layers upon layers of mystery and faith that mix with fact and the physical world. As the layers begin to shift they cause movement of tectonic proportions.

The plot thickens as the characters dimensions expand and mingle with one another. They change because being together causes that sort of a chemical reaction only family produces. Brooke calls it “indentured servitude of having a family.”

The characters whom we thought we knew at curtain rise become people we understand later on. But what is given to us as the play’s conclusion spawned a whole new list of possibilities for me. While I wouldn’t trade my family in for this one – this is a group I’d like to visit again. These characters reach over the footlights and get a firm grip on the innards of everyone fortunate enough to be in the theatre. Ka-boom! Makes you want to stick around.

Fine, fine, fine work in every way!

(Tilis McCall)


What the popular press said...

"Witty, deeply enjoyable family drama. "
Ben Brantley for New York Times

"This astutely drawn and deliciously performed play is ... juicy and surprising."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

"Spending time with these messed-up, complicated people [is] a genuine pleasure."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

"Grandly entertaining and deeply perceptive."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

"Imperfect but vibrant and compelling play."
Robert Feldberg for The Record

"One of the best new plays of the decade."
Roma Torre for NY1

"A hot attraction for viewers seeking a satisfying story and blazing performances."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

"The balance between comedy and intense family drama has been fine-tuned in richly satisfying ways."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

"Insightful performances, however, can[not] solve the improbabilities of the melodramatic plot"
Marily Stasio for Variety

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - NY1 - Newsroom Jersey - Hollywood Reporter - Variety

Production Details
Venue: Booth Theatre
Genre: Drama
Previewed: 12 Oct 2011
Opened: 3 Nov 2011
Closed: 17 Jun 2012
Playwright: Jon Robin Baitz
Director: Joe Mantello
Cast: Stockard Channing, Rachel Griffiths (Brooke Wyeth), Stacy Keach, Judith Light and Thomas Sadoski.
Synopsis: Brooke Wyeth, a once promising novelist, returns home after a six year absence to celebrate Christmas in Palm Springs with her parents, former members of the Reagan inner-circle, her brother and her aunt. Brooke announces that she is about to publish a memoir focusing on an explosive chapter in the family’s history, throwing the holiday reunion into turmoil.

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