“Relationships are hard-earned things” in The Highwood Theatre’s production of Other Desert Cities. Jon Robin Baitz’s beautiful play is a taut family drama involving a clan split by generations, values and their connection to the past. Parents Polly and Lyman Wyeth are cool, conservative, former Hollywood players. Polly’s sister Silda is staying in their guest room while she dries out from her latest failed attempt at rehab. As the play opens, Polly and Lyman’s children Brooke and Tripp have returned home for the Christmas holidays. Author Brooke bring upsetting news. She is about to publish a memoir detailing the radical exploits and subsequent suicide of her older brother. Her parents are featured prominently, and they aren’t the heroes. Nevertheless, she still wants their blessing before the publication date.
The Highwood Theatre gives Baitz’s script a passionate treatment in a 25-seat venue. The theatre is miniscule, but Other Desert Cities is an ideal play for an intimate space. The audience sits directly at the edge of the Wyeth family living room. There is no escape from the palpable tension of headstrong family members and the imminent threat of family secrets being revealed.
The pacing in the first act is a bit slow, but the second act roars along with enough emotional chaos and confusion for daytime television. Witty quips fly back and forth between Polly and Brooke, while Silda’s monologues and asides are both shocking and hilarious. Director Ryan Gunning utilizes the diminutive stage well. This drama has an abundance of verbal comedy, and Gunning adds physical comedy with creative staging. Families like the Wyeths say the most with silence and stillness. Gunning has identified some very lovely moments of silence. Though subtle, these are some of the strongest parts of the show.
Anna Jackson gives a fine performance as daughter Brooke. Admittedly, the theatre is a place to suspend our disbelief, but only to a certain degree. Jackson is far too young to play a character approaching middle age; Brooke accurately refers to herself and her brother as “aging hipsters.” Nevertheless, Jackson tackles Brooke’s scenes admirably. A decade from now, she will be perfect for this role.
Tim Torre portrays Tripp as a loveable douchebag of a younger brother. He has clearly been spoiled by rich parents. When the rest of the family is split by their diverging values, Tripp provides the moderate voice of reason. Torre brings an unparalleled vibrancy to all his scenes, and there is a let-down every time he exits the stage.
Gunning, Toly Yarup and Kevin Kearney are credited as the production’s designers. The costume designer deserves applause for Silda’s outrageous ensembles: her outfits are those of a visually-impaired, middle-aged groupie in denial. The remainder of the family, true to the conventions of their class, changes outfits for tennis, daywear and dinner. The costume designer does an admirable job – each character’s outfit states just enough about how he or she feels about this family reunion and the affiliated ceremonies.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Other Desert Cities plays through February 15, 2015 at The Highwood Theatre— 914 Silver Spring Avenue, Suite 102 in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 301-587-0697, visit the box office during their office hours, or purchase them online.
The Highwood Theatre Opens ‘Other Desert Cities‘ on February 6th by Sarah Scott.