“Other Desert Cities” – Arizona Theatre Company

This review aired on KBAQ February 17, 2014


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Jon Robin Baitz’ “Other Desert Cities” is a multi-layered play.  It’s a pithy comedy with several hysterical jokes but the humor doesn’t disguise a pointed script that skewers hypocritical conventional families.  These folks will do anything to preserve a normal family image to friends and strangers, while in private they crucify each other.

It’s a rich and rewarding play and the Arizona Theatre Company production is brilliantly acted by an artful ensemble that delivers the comedy with hilarious flair but presents the family life issues with equal sincerity.  On top of the superb acting, the play is staged by James Still with cutting candor.  Although the “Other Desert Cities” family maybe dramatized a bit here, there’s some of just about every family in this play.

We meet the wealthy Wyeth family at their Christmas celebration in their upscale Palm Springs home.  The party never has a chance because the holiday turns into a biting and sophisticated roast of the family members.  Everybody in this family claims to love the others but do they?  There’s the matriarch Polly, the sanitized father who wants to be adored by everyone, Lyman, the tell-it-all New York author and daughter Brooke, the son Trip who produces happy television shows, and Polly’s sister, Silda, who takes a beating from the family but tolerates it because they support her and her alcohol addiction.  It’s a sharp tongued group of entitled people.

Director Still keeps the pacing brisk and the acting is so perfect that you believe this is a family that detests each other.  Anne Allgood’s Polly holds this family together.  She’s a master at deception so that everyone within their circle thinks Polly’s family is perfect.  She’s been taught family conduct by Nancy Reagan.  Her husband Lyman, played quietly but incisively by Lawrence Pressman, was a renowned film actor.  They both hide their oldest son’s suicide.

Paige Lindsey White plays daughter Brooke with honesty and candor.  No hiding this family’s secrets under Brooke’s watch.  Will Mobley plays son Trip, the most normal appearing family member.  Robin Moseley is sister/aunt Silda who transforms from the person you love most in this family to the one most hated by the play’s end.  The exemplary cast convinces us we are watching a real family.

“Other Desert Cities” will hit too close to home for many audiences who come from similar families.  “Other Desert Cities” continues through March 2.  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: A