BWW Reviews: OTHER DESERT CITIES - A Scorching Hot Cast
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Jon Robin Baitz's OTHER DESERT CITIES is a heavy-hitting and sharply written drama gallivanting about as a comedy for much of the first hour. While the laughs are many, Baitz's quick-witted script is thick with suspense, disloyalty and resentment. Virginia Repertory Theatre has hired some of the most accomplished performers and creative artists in Richmond to mount the Tony-nominated production.
Toward the start, the patriarch of the Wyeth family suggests, "A lot of people get through the entirety of their lives pretending; at a certain point, it's not the worst thing to do."
It's Christmas Eve in 2004. Secrets and deceit are neatly wrapped and tucked under the tree of the Wyeth home. Republicans Lyman (Joe Inscoe) and Polly (Irene Ziegler) are former Hollywood luminaries who have moved to Palm Springs to escape a piercing past. Their daughter Brooke (Sandi Carroll), a successful writer, has drafted a third rail memoir that indicts Lyman and Polly in the suicide of their eldest child, Henry. A stereotypical youngest child, the Wyeth's womanizing, television producer son, Tripp (Mike Long), has also returned home for the holidays. Polly's guardedly sober sister, Silda (Melissa Johnston Price), is in their care after a stint in rehab.
The desert haven is raised to realism thanks to the talented hands at the helm. Characterized by clean lines, multiple textures and sliding doors, and placing second at the Southeastern Theatre Conference Design Competition, Ben Burke's set is polished and plucked right from HGTV's Dream Homes Contest. Adding another layer, including poolside reflections on the ceiling, Lynne Hartman's light design is flawless. Sarah Grady's costume design stamps authenticity onto each unique personality.
Though Baitz's prose is at times too polished, award-winning Director Chase Kniffen navigates his cracker-jack cast with surefooted direction, moving the drama along at a steady pace.
Ziegler's Polly is cold as ice and wears a carefully constructed façade. Each movement and gesture is prudently calculated. Inscoe's Lyman is a typical politician - straight-backed and strong-voiced, protecting his family's image at all costs. Even his most volatile outbursts hold sincere concern for his family. As Trip, Mike Long is lively and his delivery snappy. Carroll is good as the afflicted daughter with a heavy heart. While she portrays Brooke with some fragility, she doesn't quite reach her breaking point. Melissa Johnston Price is rousing as Silda and delivers a powerful performance, perfectly capturing the powerlessness and bitterness of a sidelined sibling.
A finely written contemporary play, OTHER DESERT CITIES runs through May 18 at the November Theatre on Broad Street. Grab your tickets to see this scorching hot cast!
Photo by: Aaron Sutten