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BWW Reviews: Emotions Run Deep in Pioneer Theatre's Smartly Directed OTHER DESERT CITIES


As "Other Desert Cities" begins, the Wyeths arrive home after a family tennis outing, and daughter Brooke realizes how her mother has used politics to her advantage during the match. "This is how you win at tennis," she observes. "You agitate me."

The agitation is just beginning. There's about to be a "thermonuclear family war," as one character observes.

Credit director Charles Morey for the excellence of Pioneer Theatre Company's production of "Other Desert Cities." It's the delicate balance between spontaneous comedy and intense family drama he so smartly achieves that makes the play so enjoyable.

The characters in the Jon Robin Baitz also-ran drama - a Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony nominee - are each a quick-witted intellectual. But they also deeply flawed.

Brooke (Nancy Lemenager) is about to publish a memoir dredging up a pivotal and tragic event in the family's history. But she has not told her parents of the book's topic, which is a part of their lives that Lyman (Dennis Parlato) and Polly (Joyce Cohen) try to keep carefully tucked away. The play's unseen character is oldest son, Henry, who committed suicide after being involved in a Weather Underground-style bombing.

Brooke wants to "talk about Henry until it makes sense."

The family includes son Trip (Michael Zlabinger), a seemingly laid-back reality TV producer, and Polly's sister Silda (Kate Skinner), fresh out of rehab.

The scripted characters resemble those so often seen on TV family serials-because Baitz created the long-running "Brothers and Sisters."

The top-notch cast brings powerful acting to "Other Desert Cities." The weakest aspect of script is how thinly Baitz has written the roles of the parents. The two were A-list pals of "Ron and Nancy," and the playwright has patterned thinly disguised version of the Reagans without any deeper dimensions. However, Parlato and Cohen are able to give Lyman and Polly flesh-and-blood reality. Parlato has previous experience with the play. He played his role in a Cincinnati production.

The Silda character is one that could steal the show, but Skinner capably plays the role without sliding into caricature.

Lemenager and Zlabinger deeply impress. They have strong brother/sister chemistry on stage and make the audience genuinely care for them. The heart-wrenching pain within Lemenager's Brooke is clear, along with how significant writing the book is to her well-being. As Trip, Zlabinger is all blunt talk but it's delivered with a low-key sadness.

Adding to the realism of this family drama is the exquisite set design by James Wolk.

Caption: Kate Skinner as Silda Grauman, Nancy Lemenager as Brooke, Michael Zlabinger as Trip, Dennis Parlato as Lyman, and Joyce Cohen as Polly. Photo by Alexander Weisman/Ice Wolf Photography

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