Dysfunctional family memoir
Other Desert Cities
Personal memoirs can offer a compelling glimpse into someone’s life, but they also have co-stars who may not be so enthusiastic or have a differing perspective about the author’s reveals. Such is the case of Brooke Wyeth (Dana Brooke), who carts her autobiography back to her parents’ home in Palm Springs, hoping for a blessing from her family, but gets a blasting instead.
In Other Desert Cities, playwright Jon Robin Baitz combines conflicting family dynamics with blunt sarcastic humor, which puts some fun in dysfunctional. Though the play starts out with wry, dry humor, it proceeds to get darker as the audience is pulled down the Wyeth family rabbit hole, where family secrets and resentments are revealed.
Brooke, who has one successful novel and a couple battles with depression in her past, confronts her family with self-righteousness and her tell-all manuscript that reveals a dark family past. The first half of the play deals with the strained relationships between the proudly liberal daughter, her Ronald Reagan-Republican parents, her wild-and-free aunt, and her producer brother. But it’s the second half that packs a punch when family relations explode after Brooke’s mother reads the memoir that includes family damnations and inner conflicts regarding a third child’s criminal past and death.
There are moments when the story timeline is confusing and the tonal shift abrupt, but the compelling tale and strong performances produce a winning combination.
The most compelling relationship in Other Desert Cities is the caustic chemistry between daughter and mother Polly, with talented actors Brooke and Joan Grant creating a sparring team where each displays amazing, accurate aim at each other’s hearts—mom throwing brittle barbs and daughter passive-aggressive darts. Dad Lyman (David Silberman), a Hollywood veteran with strong ties to Reagan, tries to be the peacemaker, while Aunt Silda (Stephanie McVay) is happy to stir up some sibling shit, and brother Trip (Mike DiSalvo) tries to distance himself from all the family dramas.
The B Street set is spot-on: an aging Palm Springs palatial home that looks stuck in the 1970s—just like the Wyeth family and their deep, dark past.