BWW Reviews: ICT Mounts a Stunning OTHER DESERT CITIES
Other Desert Cities/by Jon Robin Baitz/directed by caryn desai/International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center/thru June 29, 2014
Jon Robin Baitz's Other Desert Cities receives a superb mounting at the International City Theatre (ICT) in Long Beach with streamline direction, expert acting, and top-notch technical accoutrements. Playwright Baitz's (The Paris Letter, ABC's Brothers & Sisters) razor-sharp, barb-filled script vividly conveys the story of the dysfunctional Wyeth family. After a six-year lapse, the two adult children return to the Wyeth home in the desert city of Palm Springs, for a quite memorable Christmas gathering. Daughter Brooke, long thought of as a one-book wonder, has finally brought her newest manuscript, her memoir, for her folks to read and approve. Brooke's non-fiction, focusing on her brother Henry, who committed suicide after being linked to a terrorist bombing, revives deeply hidden family issues her parents would have preferred not to deal with. As well limned by Ann Noble, Brooke's a volatile combination of anxiety, insecurities, self-doubt--constantly asking for approval- her mom's, her dad's, her younger brother Trip's.
Suzanne Ford as mom Polly Wyeth dominates the stage with her almost flippant laissez-faire attitude towards their privileged, politically-correct Republican life. Then, turning on a dime, stops everyone cold with her piercing declarations of harsh reality. Ford's Polly loves her family, all her family, while not always successful in controlling them to her wants or what she thinks for their individual betterment. Kudos to costumer Kim DeShazo for having Ford change (from a smart tennis outfit) into a short flowing caftan, tight leggings and heels as she glides around their living room like a lioness protecting her clan. Then, at one point, deflates in a defeated pouf collapsing on the couch.
As dad Lyman Wyeth, the former movie cowboy hunk turned Republican ambassador under Reagan, Nicholas Hormann exudes the requisite movie star looks and poise needed for his successful film and political careers. Hormann naturally displays Lyman's love and concern for his troubled (if leftist) daughter; as well as his frustrations over Brooke's proposed family exposé (to Lyman and Polly, definitely leftist).
Blake Anthony Edwards simply IS Trip, the family's voice of reason, the go-between for the too frequent family disputes. Edwards handles his referee role with precise comic timing for the biting quips and genuine sincerity for the serious advice, usually landing on deaf ears.
Eileen T'Kaye deliciously fleshes out her role as Silda, Polly's recovering alcoholic sister. Silda's not only a former drunk, but Polly's ex-writing partner and confidante with her own familial agenda to accomplish. A toss-up on who has the funniest retorts-- Edwards' Trip or T'Kaye's Silda.
ICT's producing artistic director caryn desai directs this very entertaining and mesmerizing production in a sleek and quick-paced two hours, with all the cast quite adept with their respective machine gun deliveries of opinions and jibes. Kudos to set designer JR Bruce for the clean, modern split-level living room set with an appropriate faux desert landscape visible through the patio doors.
The phrase 'elephant in the room' has never had more significance or meant so many different entities in a drama (i.e., the unread manuscript, the erasing of Henry's existence, the tiptoeing around Brooke's asylum stint, the Republican parents). Certainly one of the best evenings of theatre I've seen this year!
Photos by Suzanne Mapes