BWW Review: OTHER DESERT CITIES at Tallgrass Theatre Company: A Welcome Journey to a Warmer Local
With the cold weather outside, do you long to escape to a warmer place? While you may not be able to escape someplace warm, Tallgrass Theatre Company is taking us to a warmer place in their season-long journey across America. Their current production of "Other Desert Cities" takes us to the sunny city of Palm Springs. Their production, which was delayed by two days due to snow, opened on January 18. This journey to the east coast leaves us with a question about what cost we will go to protect our family.
"Other Desert Cities" by Jon Robin Baitz, centers around Brooke who is visiting her family in California over the holidays. At first, it looks like her family is just like every other family during the holidays. While discussion initially starts with their opposing political views, it soon takes a turn when Brooke tells that she has written a book. This book is about her family and her deceased brother. When she tells them what the book is about, her parents make it clear they are not ok with this book being published. When Act 1 ends, it seems as though her parents don't want to revisit these memories. As the show continues in act 2, we find out why.
The show, directed by Michael Tallman and featuring Kristin Larson, is this year's Sarah Frank and Jack Balcombe Dream Project. When you go to see the show, please take a few minutes to read through Michael's notes to see how this duo initially came together and what led them to this show. Their passion for this project can be seen on stage throughout this production. While this play does address political issues, Tallman's directing finds a political balance that doesn't paint either side as good or bad. Kristin Larson's portrayal of Brooke was a layered performance that examined both the trials of getting together with family members who have different political beliefs than you and finding a family secret may not be what you remember it as.
The scenic design by Jonathan Hudspeth does a terrific job of taking us to a house on the California coast. The light colors used to paint the set give a warm and open feel that is what anyone would want when coming to visit family. What I appreciated about the set was how it incorporated the lighting by Ty Klobassa. Two ways stuck out to me. The first was the fireplace at the center of the stage that helped with setting showing the wealth class the characters were. I also liked the large window at the back of the set. Behind the windows was a scrim with the shadow of palm trees, which effectively took the audience on a journey of time that the show takes place.
The cast is rounded out with four terrific actors. Karen Schaeffer and Jim Morrill, Polly and Lyman, are the parents at the center of this story. Shaeffer's Polly is a strong mother who is firm with her beliefs. Her character is fun to watch as she slowly reveals what has made her character the way she is. Morrill's Lyman gives a great balance. While he has strong beliefs, he seemed willing to listen to a point. When he reaches his breaking point towards the end of the first act, he stands firm through the rest of the show. Michael Ladell Haris, as Trip, brings the neutral family member to the stage. While he shows the audience at times the way his character leans, his character tries to keep the family glued together until he gets to his breaking point. Susan Smith plays Silda, the aunt that brings the comic relief to show. She brings a welcome humor to the show from her first entrance.
If you are looking for an escape from the cold, why not travel to Tallgrass Theatre as they continue on their yearlong journey. Both "Other Desert Cities" and their upcoming production of "Wonder of the World," will be their final two productions at the Rex Mathus Theatre. They will then be going on a journey of their own as they are in the process of finding a new theatre space. To find out more about this production, or to learn more about Tallgrass Theatre Company, visit http://www.tallgrasstheatre.org/
Review written by DC Felton
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