BWW Reviews: OTHER DESERT CITIES, The Old Vic, March 26 2014
Jon Robin Baitz's Pulitzer-nominated OTHER DESERT CITIES is the latest Broadway hit to transfer to the Old Vic under Kevin Spacey's soon-to-finish tenure. It's also the start of a season of plays being performed in-the-round for the first time since 2008.
It's Christmas Eve and the Wyeths are preparing for Christmas in the Palm Springs tradition - dinner at the country club. Republican parents Lyman and Polly are trying to convince their liberal east coast daughter to move in next door. Younger brother Tripp is trying to convince her to watch his trashy reality show. And Brooke is trying to convince her parents to give their blessing to her new book.
Sinead Cusack puts in a fierce performance as the matriarch, desperate to keep her family's position in society. Martha Plimpton is superb as the troubled daughter really shining in her London stage debut. Peter Egan puts in an assured turn as the actor-turned-politician father but you can't help but feel he's channelling Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey in House of Cards). Spacey himself would not have felt miscast in the role.
Robert Innes Hopkins' set is also stunning - the transformed auditorium works brilliantly, allowing the crowd to feel much closer to the stylish Palm Springs living room that hosts most of the action. Peter Mumford's lighting complements the design well, bringing the desert winter sun to a cold and wet Waterloo.
But what lets this production down is the script, desperate for conflict - revelations seem to come out of nowhere. Family secrets are suddenly hinted at and then completely explained - building to a dénouement that wouldn't have felt out of place in Scooby Doo, where an protagonist suddenly reveals what really happened.
There is real wit in the writing - Daniel Lapaine as the youngest Wyeth and Clare Higgins as alcoholic aunt Silda both do an excellent job with some great material. But ultimately the tensions feel too forced and the traumas a little too cliché.
Director Lindsay Posner does a valiant job and the two and a half hours rattle along - but this was not the satisfying family drama it could have been.