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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Other Desert Cities

Also see Susan's reviews of The Full Monty and Ghost-Writer


Helen Carey, Larry Bryggman and Emily Donahoe
On the surface, Jon Robin Baitz's play Other Desert Cities is about political and personal conflict within a prominent family, but—as well staged at Washington's Arena Stage by five fine performers and director Kyle Donnelly—it's also about how one person can never really know the secrets of another.

The Wyeth family of Palm Springs, California, would seem to exemplify discretion and undying good taste. Lyman (Larry Bryggman), a former Hollywood actor, and his wife Polly (Helen Carey), who once wrote screenplays with her sister Silda Grauman (Martha Hackett), were intimates of Ronald and Nancy Reagan. They convey the surface polish, the apparent unflappability of people who know how to behave in the spotlight. Even their elegant living room (designed by Kate Edmunds) is carefully decorated in desert tones and neutrals, with glass-topped tables.

It's Christmas of 2004 (a white artificial Christmas tree stands to one side) and Brooke Wyeth (Emily Donahoe), a writer, is returning from the East to visit her parents and brother Trip (Scott Drummond), a reality television producer. In this still life of figures in off-white and khaki, she wears black (costumes designed by Nan Cibula-Jenkins). Brooke is a political liberal, unlike her parents, and they spar over the justification for the Iraq war.

However, Brooke brings home news that threatens to destroy the family. She has written a memoir that recounts the story of her late older brother—a left-wing activist involved in a violent act. Lyman and Polly have worked hard to bury this difficult piece of their past, and they certainly don't want their own daughter to reveal it.

Bryggman ably conveys Lyman's bluff charm and rugged good looks ("moral rectitude and great hair"), but Carey is the heart of this production. She allows the audience to see the layers of Polly's artifice: the casual bigotry (even though she's Jewish), the insistence on propriety, and the deep ache she considers weakness and tries never to expose. Donahoe nails Brooke's confusion between righteousness and a need for revenge, while Drummond is amusingly shallow and callow. Only Hackett doesn't quite get it: an alcoholic just out of rehab, she gets the hilariously acerbic lines, but she seems too contained, not outspoken enough.

Arena Stage
Other Desert Cities
April 26th - May 26th
By Jon Robin Baitz
Trip Wyeth: Scott Drummond
Brooke Wyeth: Emily Donahoe
Polly Wyeth: Helen Carey
Lyman Wyeth: Larry Bryggman
Silda Grauman: Martha Hackett
Directed by Kyle Donnelly
Fichandler Stage, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine avenues SW Washington, DC Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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