In 2012, Other Desert Cities written by Jon Robin Baitz, was a Tony nominee for Best Play as well as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The Providence Players find both delightful comedy and poignant drama in this beautifully written piece.
Polly and Lyman Wyeth have retired to a lovely home in Palm Springs. Their son Trip, who also lives in California, and daughter Brooke, a recently divorced New Yorker, have come home for Christmas. They join their parents and Polly’s sister, Silda, who is described as crazy, but is a functioning recovering alcoholic.
Brooke (Andra Whitt), who has been dealing with depression and has not visited in 6 years is about to publish her second book, a memoir of her family. She seems to be trying to purge some family demons and find relief while her parents are worried about what might be revealed or suggested in the book.
Tina Thronson, who also directs the play, portrays Polly, the matriarch of the family. Thronson plays Polly as both insightful and acerbic and one who frequently finds fault with others. She is an imposing obstacle to others’ wishes, steady and stubborn. Polly is the rock, while her husband, Lyman, is the teddy bear.
John Coscia plays Lyman as a lovingly supportive father, even though he joins his wife on opposite ends of the political spectrum from the rest of his family. He is very believable as a former actor and political ambassador, sharing similar history to his friend, Ronald Reagan.
Bobby Welsh is terrific as Trip Wyeth, the son who produces a TV show similar to The People’s Court, and who plays peacemaker for the family. He supports those being bulldozed, but also challenges those who are emotionally manipulating others for the sake of winning.
Silda Grauman is Polly’s sister and former writing partner. Played energetically and with great humor by Barbara Gertzog, Silda is the supportive free-spirit aunt to Brooke. Silda is a recovering addict and shares Brooke’s distaste with having had to rely on the support of Polly and Lyman, whose conservative ideology they oppose.
The Wyeth family endured a loss years ago that is now coming back to cause more anguish. Questions left unanswered about the death of one of the family, have resurfaced and revived 30 year-old pain threatening to tear them apart for good.
Arguments, cajoling, and subtle manipulation are all means used to influence others, but Polly reminds Brooke that actions have consequences and even her father remarks, “How cold it can get in the desert at night.”
The set is excellent, clearly suggesting location, as well as class and style of the owners. Designer John Coscia, who is also one of the actors, has built a realistic living room for an upscale home that belongs in Palm Springs. The open framework of the rear wall reveals a backdrop which is washed in lights reflecting colors of the desert sky that tell us the time of day. A small quibble I had was when I looked through the “window frame,” the scrim used for the backdrop was cut off by a teaser, one of the black curtains above the set used to mask light instruments above the stage. Set Dressing by Ingrid David includes many framed photos of Polly and Lyman and their famous friends, as well as tasteful art pieces. Even the large artificial Christmas tree is appropriate for this family and setting.
Lighting Design by Jason Hamrick was strong. Actors faces were never in shadows, the scene changes were unobtrusive, and the isolated lights for the final scene focused audience attention to a specific part of stage very effectively. The sky color on the scrim in the background gave us the time of day and supported the mood of the scenes. Hamrick and Jimmy Gertzog are listed as tech director and tech crew, so I am guessing they might also be responsible for sound. Pre-show songs all were from California-based musicians from the 60s: The Mamas and the Papas, The Beach Boys, and The Kingston Trio. The show is set in 2004, except for the last brief scene which is 2010, so I was curious about the music choice from 40 years previous. I believe it is suggestive of the family member who died years ago, though if that is the case, perhaps protest songs may have been more appropriate than easy-listening.
Laughter in Other Desert Cities is frequent and well-earned, but may have been responsible for a few line stumbles and repetitions. I fully expect the issues will clear up as the run continues.
I was most impressed with the second act, which ran more smoothly and gave beautiful moments for Trip and Brooke to show the maturity they had each grown into.
Skilled, seasoned actors make this beautifully written play a laugh-filled, enjoyable evening that you will be talking about for some time. Don’t delay, and get your tickets now to Providence Players of Fairfax’s superb Other Desert Cities.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours,with one 15-minute intermission.
Other Desert Cities plays through March 28, 2015 at The Providence Players of Fairfax performing at the The James Lee Community Center Theater-2855 Annandale Road, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call (703) 425-6782, or purchase them online, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Providence Players Opens ‘Other Desert Cities’ This Friday, March 13th by Chip Gertzog.