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BWW Review: OTHER DESERT CITIES at New Mexico Actors Lab

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BWW Review: OTHER DESERT CITIES at New Mexico Actors Lab

What happens when a prodigal daughter comes home after breaking down? How do super-conservative parents obsessed with image deal with their less-than perfect children and lives? These questions and more are at the center of Lon Robin Baltz's play Other Desert Cities. A new production at New Mexico Actors Lab is playing in Santa Fe through November 14th.

The action takes place on over Christmas, at the Palm Springs country club house of Polly and Lyman Wyeth, two staunch conservatives with ties to "Ronnie and Nancy" and Donald Rumsfeld. They are welcoming home their two children, Trip, a semi-slick hustler making it in D List Hollywood, and Brooke, their author daughter who has finally written a follow up to her first novel. Brooke is back for the first time in many years. The family is completed by Silda, Polly's sister, a former child star fallen on hard times and living with the Wyeths.

The only one missing, but coloring the air around all the action, is Henry, Brooks' younger brother who killed himself many years ago. It's obvious from the start that Brooke is particularly disturbed by his absence, having spent several months in rehab after he died. Her rehab doesn't seem to have done the trick, as alcohol and pills are never far from her reach. Trip appears to be the peacemaker, attempting to keep the conversation light and the mood festive. Silda adds to the levity - she and Polly once wrote, and starred in a television series for MGM, and Silda's fading screen star persona brings much-needed lightness to tense moments.

Brooke is struggling with becoming independent from her parents, as they don't want her to return back to New York. She wants to make a memoir for her brother that died, but her parents don't want to be reminded of it. She finally decides that she is going to do it whether or not they like it, not caring if they ever speak to her again. Lyman, for the first time ever, speaks up about the truth of his son's death. He feel like he contributed to it after he slapped his son for a reason that now seemed silly. He wasn't being supportive to him and feels he led Henry to his death.

This dark secret shared, the whole family is mournful. Brooke, at the point of desperation, throws he memoir into the air and screams of her mental suffering that has went on ever since Henry's death. An epilogue shows that, after the death of Lyman and Polly, the memoir is published and Brooke wonders when she will see Henry again.

The performances throughout are quite solid and strong, but all three women have the edge in this production. Suzanne Lederer as Silda brings an Elaine Stritch quality to her performance - gritty and sharp witted, she offers the perfect foil to her uptight sister. Leslie Dillen as Polly is incredibly engaging, her character is not exactly likeable, but Dillen makes us sympathize with this woman who has obviously chosen to distance herself from feeling emotions. The men really take a back seat to the trio of women; Eric Devlin's Lyman comes alive late in the second act, some of that passion would have been welcome in act one. Hamilton Turner as Trip offers a strong performance in a sometimes thankless role.

The heart of the piece comes in the form of Maggie Fine as Brooke - she is at once brittle, broken, strong, courageous, loving and hopeless. This performance is an emotional tour de force.

Take the journey to Palm Springs with the New Mexico Actors Lab. You won't soon forget it.

Other Desert Cities runs October 30 through November 14. Go to https://www.nmactorslab.com/ for more information.

Jackie Camborde

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