Other Desert Cities – by Monique Williams

February 11, 2013 in Blog by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

In the Goodman’s recent production “Other Desert Cities” by John Baitz, a fragile daughter visits her overbearing family for Christmas with a gift of her tell-all book revealing every family secret. The elder Wyeth’s are proud, conservative Republicans, living a comfortable retirement in Palm Springs, playing tennis at “the country club,” whom are interested in respecting privacy and a good reputation. While they are happy to see their daughter Brooke, home from New York, their reputation is threatened when she challenges their carefully crafted family narrative with her soon-to-be-published memoir. We learn that Brooke’s (Tracy Michelle Arnold) beloved brother had been part of an “anti-war” bombing, killing many innocent pedestrians; and eventually sending him to suicide. This play reflects the historical bombing in 1970, Greenwich Village town house; which was a strong attempt to protest against the Vietnam War.

This tragedy sent Brooke spiraling into a deep depression, for which she had to check into a highly expensive psych ward for seven long years. During these years she began to question her relationship with her family and has a lot of time to contemplate the events that happened leading up to her brother’s death by suicide. They did not understand him and turned him away in his most desperate hours. After she comforts them with his epiphany, the play goes darker, more revealing place, a secret that won’t be revealed here, but exposes more questions about individual memories of a life-changing event they all experienced.

The cast was truly superb. Each brought a new aspect to the play. We had a strong firm father, constantly drunk aunt; know-it all brother, and an old bitter mother. This play has it all from witty political marks and knowledge on historical and current events. The playwright introduced so many questions that had no straightforward answers, leading the audience one way and another.  He offers you the chance to see the dilemma from both sides of the ethical and political picture. Now all these problems in this play are straight forward and in the open, so you might assume that the scenery is this dark court room with judgmental glares. However it’s this warm neutral home with beautiful beige Stone and desert modern furniture, and family pictures with calm lights. All elements come together for a wonderful theatrical experience. It allows you to get this sense of welcome and appreciation, but then the lies and secrets are so overbearing that you can’t help but to laugh with delight at this emotional driven play.