Other Desert Cities
Jon Robin Baitz's play Other Desert Cities is, perhaps, ideal for San Diego audiences. Even though it's set in the desert playground northeast of us, we know Polly and Lyman Wyeth. They live in Rancho Santa Fe or La Jolla at least part-time, but they enjoy the desert, particularly during the winter months. Their photos grace the society pages of San Diego Magazine. They shop at Jonathan's and Chino's. They probably knew our parents. Hell, in many ways they were our parents.
Their children, though, not so much. Trip is a reality television producer and more of an L.A. type than many San Diegans will cozy to. Brooke, a writer based on Long Island, is one of those neurotic east coast writers who uncomfortably remind some of us of what we were trying to get away from when we moved here.
Then, of course, there's Silda Grauman, Polly's sister, former screenwriting collaborator, and reminder of what Polly was before she became who she is today. But don't mind Silda. After all, she's just out of rehab and only staying a little while, until she gets on her feet. Polly's always been there for her family, no matter how she felt about their actions. She even went back east to take care of Brooke when she had her breakdown.
Feeling as though they know Polly and Lyman will carry the day in San Diego, however.
It's Christmas eve 2004, and the family has gathered in Palm Springs. For them, it's a meaningless holiday that Polly and Lyman celebrate nevertheless. While Trip tries to keep things light, Brooke clearly has something on her mind. Eventually, she springs it open: the book she's writing that everyone thought was a novel is actually a memoir. In particular, Brooke has focused on her parents' treatment of her older brother who was involved in an anti-war action in the 1970s, was wanted by the F.B.I., and disappeared never to be seen again. The book is not only going to be published but The New Yorker magazine plans to run a lengthy excerpt of it. The memoir blames Polly and Lyman for pushing their son until he could stand it no more, and its publication, particularly as the Iraq War is becoming increasingly unpopular, is likely to make life uncomfortable for Polly and Lyman.
Act one demonstrates Mr. Baitz's savvy insider knowledge of the mores underlying the intersection of the entertainment and political communities in Southern California. One-liners abound, but lightness fades, just as York Kennedy's lighting design changes the character of Alexander Dodge's dramatic set as day turns to evening. Act two, by turn, has few laughs as Polly and Lyman present their case against publishing the memoir while plans to dine at the country club languish.
Moving through the guffaws of the first act to the tears and recriminations of the second requires agility of both actors and director, and the Old Globe's production features all the agility you'd want. The Globe is using three of its Associate Artists in this productionRobert Foxworth as Lyman, Kandis Chappell as Polly, and Robin Pearson Rose as Sildaand by doing so it has assured audiences of seeing favored performers who are likely to work well together. The strategy pays off: under Richard Seer's carefully layered direction, these three have created memorable characters that nevertheless fit seamlessly into the acting ensemble.
While acting kudos are due all around, Dana Green, as Brooke, wears the crown for conquering the touchiest and most difficult part. Brooke is still struggling with the after-effects of her breakdown, but she's trying hard to get back on track. Ms. Green, who has graced the Globe's outdoor stage in recent years as the likes of Viola in Twelfth Night and Rosalind in As You Like It, wears Brooke's emotional uncertainty as if it were made to fit her. Andy Bean, the fifth performer, slyly plays Trip as a seducer, even in interacting with members of his family. His act two scene with Brooke is a model of breaking through one layer to reveal a more self-aware one underneath.
Though audience members may scratch their heads trying to figure out how all concerned managed a transition from rollicking humor to dead silent seriousness, this production of Other Desert Cities is a theatrical delight. It runs through June 2 at the Old Globe and then re-opens August 21 at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.
The Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets (starting at $29, with premium seats starting at $90) available at the box office, by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623], or by visiting www.oldglobe.org.
The Old Globe, in association with TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, presents Other Desert Cities, by Jon Robin Baitz. Directed by Richard Seer with Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge, Costume Design by Charlotte Devaux, Lighting Design by York Kennedy. Sound Design by Paul Peterson, Casting by Caparelliotis Casting, and Stage Manager, Diana Moser.
The cast includes Andy Bean (Trip Wyeth), Kandis Chappell (Polly Wyeth), Robert Foxworth (Lyman Wyeth), Dana Green (Brooke Wyeth) and Robin Pearson Rose (Silda Grauman).