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Scott's Theatre Beat: The Only Desert City to Visit

Fall 2011

The Only Desert City to Visit

            Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz is set in Palm Springs, California at Christmas 2004. It is a play with some surprising twists and turns; at times funny and then heart-wrenchingly intense. Shortly after it opened last season at Lincoln Center, to generally good reviews and strong audiences, the producers tried to move it to a Broadway theatre but none were available. It ended its run with the intention of reopening in the Fall of 2011 on Broadway. The plan was realized in November and the show reopened at the Booth Theatre, with only one change to the original cast.

            And what a show it is; and what a great cast it has with the lead beautifully realized and performed by Rachel Griffiths as Brooke Wyeth, the long struggling daughter of two former movie actors turned Republican luminaries. Stockard Channing plays the tough as nails, no-none-sense mother Polly Wyeth and is strongly supported by Stacy Keach as Lyman Wyeth, a former movie star, ex-ambassador, and Republican Party stalwart. Thomas Sadoski as Trip Wyeth rounds out the original cast with his wonderful performance as the youngest child and who is the successful producer of a hit television show.

            The major cast change is Judith Light taking on the role of Silda Grauman, sister of Polly, a recovering alcoholic and former movie actor, who had performed with Polly in a long series of films. Ms. Light is the perfect replacement for Linda Lavin in the role of Silda and puts her own stamp of authority on the realization of the character.  Ms. Lavin left the cast for a starring role in The Lyons.

            Silda’s relationship with her sister was an intense one during the years in which they acted together and that baggage is slowly revealed as the dramatic tension builds through the course of the evening. Silda also provides an element of comic relief, keeping everyone at arms length as the emotional conflagration develops within the family.

            The move to the Booth Theatre and some adjustments to the play has brought this play from good to great. The intensity of the drama comes at you full-bore and one cannot help being swept up into the struggle of Brooke to understand the family history surrounding the tragic death of her older brother and best friend Peter some 15 years earlier. Ms. Griffiths, an accomplished Australian actor, as the center of the action, gives a nuanced performance that delivers all of the humor, intelligence, and emotional intensity bottled up inside of Brooke. The audience is drawn effortlessly into the emotional turmoil swirling around Brooke and her relationship with her parents.

            Stockard Channing and Stacy Keach are the targets of Brooke’s struggles and deliver strong performances in support of Ms. Griffiths. Ms. Channing and Mr. Keach are comfortable with the characters in which they inhabit as if the time between the Lincoln Center closing and the reopening on Broadway gave them the opportunity to become completely comfortable with Polly and Lyman a factor that enables the play to draw the audience effortlessly into its heart.

            Thomas Sadoski plays Trip, the brother and son, who has always tried to carefully navigate the emotional minefield between his parents and sister. Brooke’s issues appear to have very little to do with Trip and his life and relationship with his parents, but as the tension builds that perception begins to change. Thomas Sadoski is a perfect fit for the rest of the cast with his performance giving a subtle, but important balance to the emotional tension that exists between Brooke and her parents.

            I enjoyed the play at Lincoln Center and gave it a strong four stars but this production brings to the production to a whole new level and five stars.  John Lee Beatty’s set design, the living room of an up-scale Palm Springs ranch-style house, is nearly the same as the Lincoln Center production, but the staging makes a huge difference for the intimacy of the play. The Booth Theatre puts the audience in the midst of action whereas the Lincoln Center stage was a semi-circular arena-type stage that kept the audience at a physical and emotional distance from the action always looking down on the action from the vantage point a voyeur.

            Joe Mantello’s direction is superb. He has enabled the cast to bring out the emotional depth of the characters in a way that creates intimacy with the audience. He has a cast that was able to develop a strong chemistry that has brought this production to a new level. This is a play that is not to be missed. It will be an evening very well spent at the theatre.


2011 Scott L. Bennett, Jr.

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