“Other Desert Cities” is a tale of one family, the Wyeths, standing by their differing political views rather than each other. This 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama, written by Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Henry Wishcamper, paints a realistic picture of a family being torn apart by clashing political standpoints.
The Wyeth family seems like a normal, functional family, albeit with a few problems, as they make plans to go to their Palm Springs country club for dinner on Christmas Day. Polly and Lyman’s daughter, Brooke, has returned home after six years of living out east and battling depression. Their television-producer son, Trip, has come home for the holiday as well. Polly’s sister, Silda, is battling alcoholism and lives with her and Lyman. However, the mood of the drama soon goes from casual and fun to tense and emotional. Brooke and Silda are liberals, Trip is apolitical, and Polly and Lyman are Republicans. Brooke announces that she is writing a memoir detailing a controversial family secret that her parents do not want to face again: the suicide of her brother Henry, who was involved in a radical political group protesting the Vietnam War.
The play takes place in the Wyeths’ beautiful mansion in Palm Springs, California on Christmas Day. However, the set doesn’t change through the two acts, which leads to a feeling of monotony and impatience. The bright lighting leads to the tenseness of the situation as it reminded me of a police station’s interrogating room. Brooke’s grey loose-fitting clothes reminded me of antidepressant commercials, but they juxtaposed her mother’s gaudy holiday dress and highlighted the difference in their characters. At times, Tracy Michelle Arnold (Brooke) overplayed her “depressed angst” role and seemed more like a brooding teenage girl rather than a professional young woman.
Deanna Dunagan (Polly Wyeth) became her loud, showy character and Arnold nicely impersonated a solitary depressed woman but neither she nor John Hoogenakker (Trip) pushed limits or fully embodied their characters. However, the actors all worked together to achieve a believably dysfunctional family. Hoogenakker made his character very believable as his whiny voice yet loving wisdom resembled brothers of any age. Dunagan and Chelcie Ross (Lyman) stood out as being the faltering rocks of the Wyeth family.
Through a family being torn apart, “Other Desert Cities” proves that blood is thicker than politics and that there are many sides to a story—some of which are hidden for a reason. While I would’ve preferred a shorter play (there was about an hour and a half of setup before we got to the real conflict), “Other Desert Cities” details the Wyeth family’s disintegration with poise.
Playing: January 12-February 17, 2013
Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with an intermission