BWW Reviews: Walnut Street Theatre's OTHER DESERT CITIES
Jon Robin Baitz' Other Desert Cities tells the story of a dysfunctional family with a troubled past. A depressive formerly successful author, Brooke Wyeth returns home to celebrate Christmas with her family after being away for six years. Previously prominent Republicans, Brooke's parents Polly, a powerful society player with impossible standards, and Lyman, a former actor and former U.S. ambassador, are shocked to learn that Brooke's soon-to-be released novel is actually a memoir about the family's history. Add to the mix Brooke's liberal recovering alcoholic aunt and her brother who, though closer in proximity, has still managed to erect a wall between himself and the family, and the reunion becomes a drama-filled event as they all try to come to grips with the past. Loyalties are questioned, secrets are revealed and the story twists and turns as truths come out, further changing the family forever.
Unfortunately, the Walnut Street Theatre's production of the well-written but not imperfect play Other Desert Cities suffers from unsuitable casting and odd direction. Though their performances as Polly and Lyman were extremely strong, Susan Wilder and Greg Wood are simply not old enough to support their supposed societal and political connections of years past. As Brooke, Krista Apple was appropriately fragile, but it leaned overly too much in that direction as her portrayal completely lacked the inner strength needed to support the bravery required to expose such difficult family history and risk the permanent loss of connection to her parents. As Brooke's brother Trip, Matteo Scammell's characterization was inconsistent and odd. Overall, the production lacked the vibrancy and energy needed, though the second act was a big improvement over the first due to solid performances by Wilder and Wood.
Though the Walnut's large-scale set was beautiful, staging the production in such a large and disconnected environment lost all the intimacy of which this play needs and benefits. Thom Weaver's lighting was complimentary and helped display the passage of time as needed. Though Colleen Grady's costuming was fine overall, the constant clink, clink, clink of Silda's bangle bracelets was distracting and it seemed as if she wasn't all too comfortable in her shoes, though perhaps that could be seen as intentionally keeping the recovering alcoholic on-edge.
Photo Credit: Mark Galvin