Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Other Desert Cities
Clague Playhouse
Review by Mark Horning


John J. Polk, Anne McEvoy, Leighann DeLorenzo,
Valerie Young and James Rankin

Photo by Terry Schordock
It is Christmas Eve 2004 at the Wyeth home in Palm Springs. Ultra conservative right-wingers Lyman (John J. Polk) and Polly (Anne McEvoy) have a full house, as youngest son Trip (James Rankin) and middle daughter Brooke (Leighann DeLorenzo) are home for the holidays. Also residing at the spacious and well-appointed home is Polly’s sister Silda (Valerie Young), who is fresh out of rehab. This is the gist of Jon Robin Baitz' play Other Desert Cities, which was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and is now on stage at Clague Playhouse under the direction of Fred Sternfeld.

Trip is the producer of an extremely popular courtroom television show where faded actors make up the jury while the case is presided over by a retired judge. Trip tries desperately to be the peacemaker of the family but ends up going down in flames and giving up entirely. He is also never recognized for his success simply because it does not measure up to the stratospheric high levels that his parents had achieved during their careers. Lyman and Polly are former actors who, through their pre-presidential friendship with Ronald and Nancy Reagan, ended up with Lyman as an ambassador with Polly pulling the strings from behind the velvet curtain. On the surface the pair seem to be your typical extreme right fundraising Republicans, but things are not always as they seem.

The discord is caused by Brooke. She is a liberal-minded young divorcee whose family came to her rescue on the East Coast during a six-month bout of severe depression six years earlier. She is the author of a book and numerous magazine articles for high profile publications. Her reason for the visit is to announce to the family that she has written a new memoir detailing the flawed adolescence of her older brother Henry, his estrangement from his parents, his descent into mental health problems due to drugs and alcohol, and his joining a left-wing subversive radical group, implicating him in the bombing of a recruiting station where a war veteran janitor burned to death. This leads to Henry committing suicide. Brooke makes copies of her manuscript to share with the family in order to get their blessing.

Special mention must be made about the set for this production. Clague Playhouse once again dazzles and surprises as Ron Newell has created an elegant Palm Springs home complete with open pit fireplace (no flames due to fire regulations, but there are excellent sound effects).

The rest of the production is also top notch, except for one aspect. There needs to be a better sense of flow. At times the action bogs down, bringing a sense of tedium to the over two-hours stage time. While billed as a dark dysfunctional family comedy, it seems to lean much more heavily on the dark with the comic timing portion needing more work.

Leighann DeLorenzo shines as Brooke, who has drawn a line in the sand and stands toe to toe to her parents' verbal onslaught. James Rankin as Trip and Valerie Young as Silda provide the brief glimpses of comedy, but it is not really enough to win the audience over. Anne McEvoy as Polly is hell on wheels great as the "no sacrifice is too great to keep the family together mother" who brow beats everyone who dares to stand up to her. John J. Polk does a good turn as Lyman, who conceals much more than he is willing to share.

If you are recently released from rehab this may be a play to avoid. There is drinking, drug use, more drinking, marijuana smoking, still more drinking, and a whole lot of screaming and carrying on.

Due to the dark nature of the play, it is a hard sit—but worth the effort for the ending twist.

Other Desert Cities, through February 3, 2019, at Clague Playhouse, 1371 Clague Road, Westlake OH. Tickets may be purchased online at www.clagueplayhouse.org or by calling 440-331-0403.


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