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Other Desert Cities
Fusion Theatre Company

Also see Rob's review of Killer Angels and Sarah's review of The Hobbit

Other Desert Cities
Joanne Camp
Trouble comes to town during a Christmas Eve family reunion. In the recent Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist Other Desert Cities, Jon Robin Baitz tells the story of the Wyeth family holiday in Palm Springs in 2004. Polly and Lyman are former Hollywood insiders. Polly (Joanne Camp) is a former TV writer. They are both staunch Republicans; Lyman (Paul Blott) did a stint as an ambassador under Reagan.

They have welcomed their two children for the holiday: Brooke (Jacqueline Reid) and her younger brother Trip (James Louis Wagner). Brooke is coming off an emotional breakdown. Trip is having a good run as a reality TV producer. Also along for the holiday ride is Polly's sister Silda (Laurie Thomas), who is fresh out of rehab for alcohol abuse. In the past she co-wrote TV shows with Polly. This is a damaged crew who walk thin ice while taking potshots at each other.

The ghost that haunts this fragile family is the son who committed suicide decades earlier. He had been part of a Weather Underground type radical group that bombed a military recruitment center. When the finger of the law pointed toward him, he jumped off a bridge. His body was never recovered.

The drama rises to a high pitch when Brooke—a budding novelist—reveals she has written a memoir about her brother and the family troubles that led to his estrangement from his parents, his radicalism, and ultimately to his death. Lyman doesn't want to face the reality of those long-gone days. Polly is fiercely opposed to the memoir, convinced that Brooke is doing a hatchet job on the family. Brooke offers copies of the book for her family to read.

Trip—endlessly the family peacemaker—acknowledges the book is Brooke's best work, while he also admits the content is hurtful to Polly and Lyman. Silda thinks its great, believing Polly and Lyman are getting what they deserve in the memoir's revelations. Arguments over the memoir go deep and mean.

Other Desert Cities, which refers to a sign on the way out of Palm Springs, debuted off Broadway in January 2011 and was heralded as Baitz' finest play. It moved to Broadway in November 2011. The production received five nominations for the 2012 Tony Awards.

The Fusion production is excellent. All five actors deliver strong performances. Joanne Camp is chillingly powerful as Polly. As Brooke, Jacqueline tops her already fine performance in Time Stands Still. Paul Blott, popping in from Los Angeles, is fine as Lyman, and Laurie Thomas delivers a saucy-funny performance as the not-wanting-to-be-dry Silda. James Louis Wagner as the young brother Trip leaves you wanting more. I'd like to see him in a more substantial role—he is terrific.

A small beef with the show is that the surprise in the second act comes out of nowhere. A couple of small foreshadowing remarks earlier in the play would have made the abrupt reversal seem less arbitrary.

Kudos to director Gil Lazier. He has a deep directing background and it shows. He kept the emotions running hot and tight while blowing off steam with selected humorous asides from Silda and Trip. He keeps the emotion well balanced as the pressure rises and rises.

Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Gil Lazier is a Fusion Theatre Company production. It runs at The Cell, 700 1st Street NW, through September 22. Performances run Thursday and Friday at 8:00 pm, Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00 pm, Sunday at 6:00 pm. There will also be performances at the Cell on Tuesday September 18 and Wednesday September 19 at 8:00. Performances will be held at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe on Friday September 21 at 8:00 and Saturday September 22 at 2:00 and 8:00. General admission for adults is $35. For seniors and students, $30. For reservations, call 766-9412, or purchase at the Theatre's website: www.fusionabq.org/.


Photo: Richard Hogle

--Rob Spiegel



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