Meet the cast of Vienna Theatre Company’s Other Desert Cities. In Part 1: Meet Jessie Roberts and Susan d. Garvey.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tells us where our readers may have seen you perform on stage?
Jessie: I am Jessie Roberts. I have directed and acted at many theatres in the Northern Virginia area. In the last few years, I directed Next to Normal for Taking Flight Theatre and also appeared as Pamela in the TFT production of Ken Ludwig’s The Fox on the Fairway. I directed Time Stands Still for the McLean Community Players, Willy Wonka, The Musical for the Vienna Theatre Company and, most recently, Rehearsal for Murder for the Reston Community Players.
Susan: My name is Susan d. Garvey and I have been involved with community theatre in Northern VA for over fifteen years. Most recently I was in Gutenberg! The Musical! (NextStop Theatre) and was last seen at Vienna Theatre Company in Colder Than Here (Ruby Griffith Outstanding Play Award). Other credits include; Flowers for Algernon, Life X 3, Wit, The Memory of Water (ESP), Twilight of the Golds, Working the Musical, Proposals, The Women, Harvest Moon,(RCP), Children, The Dining Room, (SCT), Equus (Taking Flight). I have produced three shows and won the WATCH Award for Outstanding Properties in a Play, RED (ESP/NextStopTheatre).
Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to your character? Do you share any similar traits?
Jessie: I play the role of Silda, a recovering alcoholic and the eccentric sister of Polly. Silda is striving to maintain her self-ness in the face of having generally failed at life. She does this through bravado and well-meaning gestures – many of which backfire on her. I would like to say I don’t share too many similar traits with her but that’s what acting is all about – finding those things in oneself that are not apparent in one’s everyday life and expanding those, perhaps not so attractive traits, into a fully realized and realistic character.
Susan: I play Polly Wyeth, Lyman’s wife and Brooke and Trip’s mother. My character was described by Jon Robin Baitz as “elegant and forthright and whip-smart.” That appealed to me and I was flattered that Director Rosemary Hartman saw me as Polly. I can relate to Polly on many levels: as a mother, (I have two daughters in their twenties), as a wife (I’ve been married for thirty-two years), as a strong woman with a sense of humor who is not afraid to speak out on issues she believes in, as a protector who is fiercely loyal to the people she loves. Polly and I both succeeded in male dominated industries (a writer at MGM for Polly and radio and television sales for me) and we are both competitive. Where we are very different is in Polly’s inability to compromise, her unyielding political views and she’s not a sensitive person.
What is the show about from Silda and Polly’s point of view?
Jessie: Forgiveness. Given Silda’s many failures in life – either through her own doing or beyond her control – she seeks forgiveness and encourages others to forgive other members of the family so they can all co-exist in this life.
Susan: This play is about keeping a secret and the implications that have developed from that decision.
What do you enjoy about playing Polly and Silda in Other Desert Cities?
Jessie: I love having the opportunity to let loose on stage. Silda goes far beyond my persona as far as her ability to say what she means, do what she wants (so long as it doesn’t involve alcohol) and loving those around her as much as they will allow her to love them.
Susan: I am enjoying finding Polly’s perspective on her family, her life and her future. She is not a cold person, which one may think when first reading this play. She is actually a deeply caring person who is very quick witted with no filters on what she says to anyone. She believes in what she says, therefore, why not say it? The idea that others do not agree with her are perplexing but don’t cause her to change her point of view or bend on an issue. It’s very freeing to play a character who is completely comfortable in her own skin and indifferent to how her views are received by others.
What is the most challenging thing about playing Silda and Polly?
Jessie: Keeping her real. It would be easy to turn her into a caricature of an eccentric, recovering alcoholic but there is so much more to her than that. The challenge is blending her “out-there-ness” and the real, compassionate person that she is.
Susan: The most challenging thing has been to find the “lightness” in Polly’s words. Director Rosemary Hartman has been a great help working with me to find the sections of the play where I can display humor and a lighter side.
What has been the best advice or suggestions that Director Rosemary Hartman has given you that has made your performance stronger?
Jessie: Don’t be afraid to go too far with Silda. If I take her too far, I trust Rosemary will pull me back into reality. To find a character’s essence you have to take her beyond those extremes and then bring her back to believability. Rosemary lets, no, encourages me to do that and then helps me hone those extremes into a real person.
Susan: Rosemary is a very positive director. I respond well to that. She shares her vision openly and has the patience to let me try many ways of delivering a line or expressing a thought to get to where it needs to be. She is less concerned with setting something in stone in the beginning of the rehearsal process than she is in having us try new ways of exploring. She has encouraged us to listen to one another. This sounds obvious, but when you are learning lines and blocking you can sometimes shut out what’s being said. By listening, there are many clues that help you react and respond.
If there were a song or title of a show associated with Other Desert Cities, what song and/or title of show would you choose?
Jessie: The song would be Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Teach Your Children Well”. Look up the lyrics. It’s about what each generation has to teach each other and what each generation hides from each other. And that’s what the play is about.
Susan: My immediate response to this great question is the Beatles ballad, “The Long and Winding Road.” “The long and winding road that leads to your door will never disappear, I’ve seen that road before it always leads me here, leads me to your door.” I think this best reflects Brooke as she has not been home in six years and her parents are truly elated that she wants to finally come home for a visit.
This show has had several productions in community theatre and schools all throughout the DC Metro area in the past year. Have you seen any of these productions and have you appeared in another production of Other Dessert Cities? What makes this show and production of Other Dessert Cities special or unique?
Jessie: I haven’t seen any other productions. I try not to see other productions of shows I am in or I am directing. If there are similarities, they have come to me organically from within my creativity, not from seeing what someone else has done and making it my own.
Having admitted to not seeing other productions, I can still answer the question of what makes this production special and unique. The cast comprises extraordinarily talented actors who are committed to finding the essence of the script. Rosemary is a dream director to work with – I have worked with her in the past and she lets actors have their heads but gives clear and sensible advice to keep us from running off the rails!
Susan: I saw the Silver Spring Stage production of this show last year. I think this show is appealing because it is about families and family dynamics. There is at least one character or issue that the show reveals that I feel people can relate to. It has a wide demographic appeal and is beautifully written.
What are enduring themes and lessons of Other Dessert Cities?
Jessie: Love. As Trip says (I’m paraphrasing a bit but not much) – when you take your last breath, all that will have mattered is how you loved.
Susan: There are many in this play, which is why it is so fascinating to do. Family roles is one theme. Being the oldest, or the youngest in a family and how that role does or doesn’t change as we age. Family secrets – don’t we all have them? Aging parents, grown children who are well into their thirties yet want to remain dependent children, drug and alcohol abuse, differing political views and those implications.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform in Other Desert Cities?
Jessie: Be honest with yourself. Forgive and love those around you. We all make mistakes – some are worse than others. There are very few that can’t be forgiven at least to some extent. Even if you can’t forgive completely, forgive as best you can and fill the part you’ve been able to forgive with love.
Susan: I hope audiences can relate to Polly, although they may not agree with her. I do hope they will emotionally connect with her.