By Jon Robin Baitz
Directed by Henry Wishcamper
Politics, secrets and revelations are all the perfect ingredients for a dysfunctional family gathering and “Other Desert Cities” seems to haveit all.
When Brooke Wyeth (Tracy Michelle Arnold) returns to her parent’s home in Palm Springs, Calif., on Christmas Eve, 2004, with disturbing news, this comedy/drama play dives into deep questions of family secrets as well as who owns your story.
The play opens up on a luxurious California set that reveals quite clearly, the Wyeth’s are a wealthy family. The stage is well balanced with a mini-bar area set up on the left and a wall of floor to ceiling windows in the back right, revealing well-trimmed bushes and glowing sunshine.
Brooke is the daughter of former film star Lyman Wyeth (Chelcie Ross) who has become a Republican ambassador and their father/daughter relationship, though rocky, is closer than one she has with her mother.
Polly Wyeth (Deanna Dunagan) does not seem the loving mother. Instead, she chooses the passive aggressive route keeping a tone that is harsh and direct, almost verbal abuse,with her daughter.
When Brooke reveals that she has written a tell-all memoir, the Christmas festivities halt and the tension builds. The book is Brooke’s perspective on her brother henry’s suicide, something she has never spoken about with her parents.
Throughout the play there’s a myriad of revelations, from the suicide of the oldest son to his possible connection with a bombing. But the threat of publishing these family secrets causes a whirlwind of arguments between not only Brooke and her parents but with her brother Trip (John Hoogenakker).
Trip played the mediator for the family and the comedic relief for the audience. With a play as deeply heart wrenching as “Other Desert Cities,” Trip helps the audience from becoming overwhelmed.
The actors showed great understanding for the roles even when the characters got somewhat annoying. Deana Dunnagan took on the harsh mother of Brooke, Polly, delivering some of the most bitter lines. Linda Kimbrough, who played the recovering alcohol Aunt Silda, often overplayed the franticness of her character, who was recently released from rehab.
When the actors first speak, the audio seemed like it could have been fuller but after a little while I got used to it.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the story unfold and piecing it together with each bit of new information. “Other Desert Cities” which runs through Feb. 17, is a story that will capture you for the two hours and 15 minutes it runs. You will also think about it on your way home.
When I left the Goodman, this line, spoken by Silda, was in my brain and running on repeat in my mind. It reads: “because on your last day on this planet, you’ll be scared, and it won’t matter as you take your last breath — all that will matter is how you loved.”