Other Desert Cities

 

goodman theatre
Other Deseet Cities

Directed by Henry Wishcamper

At the Goodman Theatre, Chicago

Family secret pits parents against their sibling

Played out on a stunning Palm Springs art-deco home set (designed by Thomas Lynch), Ron Robin Baitz’s Other Desert City is a family drama filled with politics that becomes an embroiled debate between the conservative ex-film star father, Lyman Wyeth (Chelcie Ross), now an ambassador with close Republican Party roots and his ultra-conservative wife, Polly (Deanna Dunagan) and their New York  liberal writer daughter, Brooke (Tracy Michelle Arnold).  Add the liberal Aunt Silda (Linda Kimbrough), sister to Polly with the neutral political son, Trip (John Hoogenakker) and we have the ingredients for a family political debate much like the Reagan’s might have had as Brooke arrives for Christmas in 2004 with the manuscript of her new tell-all book.

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Other Desert Cities starts out a major debate between California Republicans – the parents – and the liberals – aunt and the daughter with a history of depression with son Trip acting a neutral referee.  This smartly written and finely structured drama exposes the riffs between conservative older folks vested in  preserving their conservative  political and social values built up over a lifetime and the  seemingly unstable liberal views expressed by a sister, a former screenwriter recently released from rehab, and the daughter – the writer living a bohemian lifestyle in Manhattan. But, during the arguments we learn that the oldest son, Henry, as a teen, became a drug addict and an anti-war (Vietnam) activist and hippie. He was shunned by the father after becoming involved in a violent anti-war bombing.

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His suicide shortly after that incident deeply affected Brooke who was extremely close to her brother.  After almost 30 years, Brooke feels the need to write about how she believes that her father and, especially, her ever-controlling  mother drove Henry to suicide. Brooke feels she is the voice for Henry.  But, her book threatens the Wyeth family yet Brooke seeks her parent’s approval.  Tensions mount as Polly retreats to read the book;  Lyman refused to read the book as he wants to keep his love for Brooke intact.

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Without saying more, let me state that we see how the personalities of the Wyeth’s, at first, are predictable: Lyman wants the book shelved until his death, Silda wants it published since she contributed to it as an attack back to her dominant sister. Trip is ambivalent and, of course, Polly is vehemently opposed to publication.   Since the publication of a New Yorker article and the book’s publication is at hand, the family secret is finally revealed that sheds a new light on the relationship between Henry and his parents.

What makes Other Deseret Cities so compelling is the wonderful cast led by the graceful Deanna Dunagen as the Nancy Reagan-like Polly. Chelcie Ross is the patriarch Lyman who tries had to be civil. Linda Kimbrough is the whip-smart sister with the sharp comic timing. John Hoogenakker is the sardonic brother who only wants peace in the family. Tracy Michelle Arnold is the totally honest and conflicted daughter/writer bent on telling the truth.  The interactions and explosions are both engaging and telling.  A wonder ensemble carries Baitz’s script home with style and loads of truth. This play has much to say and a shocking revelation.  It is a fine political potboiler.

Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: January 22, 2013

For more info checkout the Other Desert Cities page at theatreinchicago.com

At the Goodman Theatre,  170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312-443-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org,  tickets $25 – $86, Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30 pm,  Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, select Sundays at 7:30 pm, matinees on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through February 17, 2013