“Other Desert Cities” is Jon Robin Baitz new family drama filled with politics, humor and a great deal of hope. When Brooke Wyeth arrives to her parents Polly (Deanna Dunagan) and Lyman Wyeth (Chelcie Ross) Palm Spring Art Deco styled mansion on Christmas Eve 2004 with her manuscript of her very detailed memoir in honor of her late brother Henry. She then discovers a devastating family secret. Director Henry Wishcamper brings to life the story of a truly dysfunctional family who loves each other very much, however when a secret and the real truth arise, the family bonds are put at risk.
The play focuses on the Wyeth’s daughter Brooke (played by Tracey Michelle Arnold, for her Goodman debut) and how the process of writing her memoir helped her to get over the horrible bombing her older brother Henry was associated with during the 70’s. She is under the assumption that her loving parents will be just as reluctant to get the full story down on paper but she is taken aback by the response she receives from her parents. Her mother Polly is the backbone of the family styled after Nancy Reagan who happens to be one of their closest friends and she is afraid of what her and her husband Lyman’s other Republican friends will think. Lyman loves his daughter unconditionally, in his eyes she is seen as daddy’s little girl. The powerful bond is clearly evident in Arnold’s and Ross’s articulate performance. However in this play that the father daughter bond and unconditional love is tested.
Each of the 5 actors had great depth to their characters. All having brought just the right amount of comedy, emotions and intelligence in order to handle this extremely well-worded, emotional play while creating a realistic family. The script itself is an amazingly written piece of art. The story is so moving, entertaining, and concise because each word in the play was selected precisely to show how educated each member of this family is.
There was a time in the past where families’ lives were rather personal and private. Then when they would go out they would put up a sort of front to hide whatever was really happening in their lives. As a theatre student I can relate it back to the whole notion of “mask up/mask down”. Mask up when we try to hide something, and mask down when we allow others in to learn something very personal about ourselves. I think that is what will make this play be so meaningful to audiences; it will make them want to relate it back to their lives, to their families and to their political views. Laughs will be shared, tears will be shed, and thoughts will be thought. If you want a play that has a lot to say about family as well as our politics and how that influences our culture, then you do not want to miss the Chicago premiere of “Other Desert Cities” now playing at The Goodman Theatre through February 17th.