Family feud gone wild in Goodman’s ‘Other Desert Cities’ – by Olivia Day

February 13, 2013 in Blog by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

Most families experience feuds– some more than others. In every fight that ensues sides are taken and people declare their loyalty. Jon Robin Baitz’s “Other Desert Cities” playing at the Goodman Theatre, expertly captures the feuding that goes on in one family. The play takes place on Christmas Eve, because what would Christmas be without family drama?

The play exposes one prominent Republican family and all the secrets and drama their life entails. Brooke, the psychologically challenged daughter, portrayed by Tracy Michelle Arnold, writes a book about her family and the death of her older brother, Henry. This, not shockingly, is bad news for her parents, Polly (Deanna Dunagan) and Lyman (Chelcie Ross), who have spent their entire lives covering up the dirty secrets of their past to maintain the pampered, Palm Springs-lifestyle they have.

The most compelling thing about the play is that throughout it you have no idea whose side you are on. One second you are on Brook’s side. The next minute you are on Polly and Lyman’s side. The whole time you are waiting to see what happens.

The play’s irony is the seemingly perfect lifestyle that the family lives, from the cheery Palm Spring’s home with the big open windows and the salmon-colored furniture to the former movie star dad. On the outside it looks like this family is perfect, but the reality is much worse.

What is quite intriguing during the play is Henry, who never actually appears on the stage, because he is dead. As the play progresses bits and pieces of the truth about Henry come out until you know what happened with him.

While Henry keeps audience members intrigued, a favorite character throughout the play is the brother, Tripp, played by John Hoogenaker. The first impression he makes is that he’s just the stupid, younger brother who doesn’t know much. He produces a bad, reality show on TV much like “Judge Judy” or “Divorce Court.”  Tripp soon changes the original impression he has on everyone as the play progresses. He goes from the dumb brother to an intelligent, straight-to-the-point kind of guy.

Tripp is the kind of person who will tell you what the reality of the situation is. He doesn’t particularly take sides in the play, but he keeps everyone in check. For example, when he tells Brooke the reason why she “doesn’t care about money” is because she is rich, he is absolutely right!

Two characters who will truly get under your skin at different points throughout the play are Polly and Brooke. As the play progresses, you learn why they are the way they are and you start to see their lives as they do. It is an amazing thing that director Henry Wishcamper was able to capture. Polly, however rude and mean as she is does it for a reason. She always has had to take care of someone, whether it’s Henry; her recovering alcoholic sister, Silda; or Brooke, when she spent six years in the hospital for depression. Brooke, on the other hand, becomes increasingly annoying and then decreasingly annoying when she learns the truth.

The entire play, while centered on the drama one family goes through, is mainly about one question: Should Brooke publish her memoir or not?

It is a hard question to answer. Throughout the play the audience goes back and forth between whose side they are on. One second Brooke sounds right and the next her parents sound right. This is Brooke’s biggest dilemma because if she chooses to publish it her entire family will be humiliated and her parents will hate her. But, she wants to get her work out there. She wants people to know what she thinks of her parents.

Overall, being transferred into the lives of one family with too many secrets and too much drama is enjoyable. Despite whose side you end up taking “Other Desert Cities” takes you for a ride into the lives of the perfect-not perfect people who live in our country.