Other Desert Cities


REVIEW by Willard Manus

Set in a Palm Springs villa--represented by Takeshi Kata's luxurious set--OTHER DESERT CITIES is a gripping and provocative drama written by Jon Robin Baitz. First produced in New York in 2011, the play delves into the political, generational and ethical clashes of the Wyeth family. The parents, Polly and Lyman (JoBeth Williams and Robert Foxworth, respectively), are well-heeled retirees

who once worked in the movies, she as a scriptwriter, he as an actor. Their showbiz success, combined with their rightwing orientation, led them to the upper-echelon of the Republican Party--running fund-raising campaigns for the likes of Ronnie and Bush the First.

This witty, urbane couple had three children, two of whom rebelled against their upper-class upbringing. Brooke (Robin Weigert) gave up the West Coast for the hand-to-mouth existence of a NYC freelance writer. Her unseen brother Henry joined a militant cult that believed social change could be achieved only through violence. His disillusionment with the cult drove him, presumably, to commit suicide. (His body was never found).

The third sibling, Trip (Michael Weston), has stayed close to home and built a career in reality TV, much to the disgust and scorn of his sister. Brooke, like a lot of New Yorkers, dismisses Hollywood as La La land, the Dream Coast. She has returned to Palm Springs to prepare her parents for a disturbing event: the imminent publication of her family memoir, one which centers on the long-buried details of Henry's life and death.

Her horrified parents demand that she cancel the book's release, citing the pain and shame it would cause them. They also accuse her of wanting to exploit the family tragedy, peddle its dark history for personal gain. Trip agrees with them and urges her to postpone publication, at least until after the death of their parents.

Brooke, who self-righteously believes that the truth must always be told, has one family ally, her aunt Silda (Jeannie Berlin), an alcoholic but acerbic ex-scriptwriter who cracks wise when she's sober.

SOME DESERT CITIES is built on a series of confrontational scenes, most of them between Brooke, Polly and Lyman--articulate, impassioned people arguing from deeply felt positions. It makes for strong drama which is eventually deepened when a stunning secret is revealed.

SOME DESERT CITIES has been given an admirable production at the Taper. The acting and directing (by Robert Egan) are first-rate, matching Baitz's erudite, compassionate writing.

(Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave. Call 213-972-4400 or visit centertheatregroup.org)