The description I read of Jon Robin Baitz’s play “Other Desert Cities,” which recently opened at the Goodman Theatre, made me sure I would see a soap-opera like dramedy about family secrets that would force the audience to rethink their family lives.
Essentially, this is what I got.
“Other Desert Cities,” which was nominated for a 2012 Tony Award for best play, is at the Goodman through Feb. 17, under the direction of Henry Wishcamper.
It is set on Christmas Eve, 2004, at the Wyeth family’s Palm Springs mansion. Lyman and Polly Wyeth’s daughter, Brooke, is home, bringing the manuscript of her new book, which threatens to unearth a dark family secret
As the curtains rose and the lights fell over the stage, my mouth fell open. I was stunned: The modern Palm Springs living room was reproduced on stage in perfect detail, from the sliding glass doors to the framed photos on the walls. I felt as though I were a guest in the house, maybe sitting in a chair in the living room, uncomfortably witnessing events I had no business seeing.
I send my compliments to Thomas Lynch.
Still, despite the exquisite set, I felt a disconnect with the acting. Most of the family members were stereotypes, caricatures of different societal groups, the emotionally wrecked, liberal daughter pitted against the conservative, wealthy parents. Tracy Michelle Arnold’s portrayal of Brooke, the daughter, was at times a bit over-the-top, to the point of being annoying. Although Brooke may not have been intended to be likable, she should have at least been believable, and I couldn’t quite loose myself in her performance.
I did, however, buy John Hoogenakker’s portrayal of Brooke’s younger brother Trip, who is the happy medium, the grey area.
He was clearly the most likable character and he was also the most real. Maybe his role as the neutral character made his performance more believable.
The biggest problem I had with the play was the ending. It was too abrupt, and while it was interesting to finally hear the truth from a parent’s perspective, I feel like the Baitz was tired of the argument and was just looking for a surprising way to end it.
On the whole, I enjoyed “Other Desert Cities” for its thought-provoking questions about family life, even if the acting and dialogue weren’t as realistic as the set.