Other Desert Cities – by Claire Tierney

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

Right off the bat, this family seems like something out of a contemporary magazine. The curtains open up to a beautifully elegant home with a family just arriving from their Saturday morning tennis match. Living the typical American dream, this family is much more than meets the eye.

Jon Robin Baitz’ Other Desert Cities takes you back to the Christmas of 2004 at the ultra-conservative home of Lyman and Polly Wyeth in Palm Springs, California. Polly and Lyman’s daughter Brooke has just come home to spend the holidays with them, her brother Trip, and her Aunt Silda.

Deanna Dunagan plays Polly Wyeth, the cold-hearted and glib mother. She is the epitome of ‘tough love.’ She is opinionated and strong in her small framed figure; she always has the last word. You can tell she has been through a lot, but will not let anyone see her sweat.

Lyman Wyeth, the patriarch of the family, played by Chelcie Ross, is extremely endearing in some parts, however a bit standoff-ish. You get a sense that there is a deep seated pain masked beneath his gruff exterior.  He allows his wife to rule but he is the backbone of this damaged family.

An expectedly joyous vacation home takes a turn for the worst when they discover their daughter Brooke, played by Tracy Michelle Arnold, has written a new book. However, this is no ordinary novel; it is a private diary of memories from a tragically unfortunate childhood event. Brooke is currently recovering from severe depression and thinks that publishing this memoir will bring closure to her wounded soul. The Wyeths have always been quite reserved and prefer to keep their personal lives very confidential.  So obviously this tell-all book threatens their perfect family image. Along the way we learn these secrets and much more. The constant banter, drama, and wit portrayed on the stage is sure to keep you intrigued and thoughtful during and even after the show.

Throughout the various twists and turns of the shows, one changing point in particular was towards the end during, yet another, family debate on the couch. Lyman had kept his cool through everything until that point; he broke down and let his anger proceed. The heated discussion only gets worse when Lyman unfolds another unexpected secret to his children.

Brooke’s brother, Trip, played by John Hoogenakker, is the voice of reason, reality, and humor from the start. Being the constant comedy relief, he is particularly likable and pleasant to watch. His presence on stage is light hearted, he is ‘that guy,’ you want to know. Whenever conversations took a turn for the worse, simply looking across the stage to him was comforting. You could tell he tried not to be a very serious person, and I admired that. Life should not be taken so literally all the time. When confronted by his mother about his constant humorous outlook, he replied “funny is all we have.”

This drama will get you thinking about secrets, what they entail, and the pain they can cause. Are they worth keeping? Who has the right to tell yours? Every family has their own.