It’s a familiar scene. Single set- an opulent modern home, lavishly decorated; five characters absorbed with what familiarly feels like “rich people” debate and crises; assumed stuffiness; and the rest of the rigamarole of what seems the only remaining formula for contemporary plays.
Or so this is what I admittedly prepared myself for within the first twenty minutes of experiencing Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities at the Mark Taper Forum. But before I sit too long in this setup and deter those only glimpsing through this review from the production, allow me to feverishly stress that I was wrong. I pronounce myself guilty of judging this book’s book by it’s proverbial cover.
The production was, undoubtedly, a triumph.
At the forefront of this success is Mr. Baitz’s script. While it sits in the formula of the majority of modern family dramas, this story seems to effortlessly weave together a vast variety of larger social issues in a way that feels so relevant, so vibrant, so vital...so beyond the regular formula.
The Wyeth family is gathering together for a Christmas celebration at their parents Palm Springs home. Retired from a life of GOP politics, Lyman (Robert Foxworth) and Polly Wyeth (JoBeth Williams), remain loyally tied to their conservative beliefs and right-winged allies. Liberal daughter Brooke Wyeth (Robin Weigert), in town from the east coast, has brought her new book- the first after a six year struggle with writers’ block and severe depression- for the family to review. When the book ends up being a memoir dissecting the family’s most controversial event, the stability of the family is threatened as years of conflicting beliefs come aggressively out into the open.
And so goes the story, only it’s so much more than all of that. An often paralyzing script, saturated with Mr. Baitz’s usual mastery of language, sharp comedy and often gut-wrenching suspensions, this play glides easily through perfection. At times it’s mastery conjures up the experience of watching an Arthur Miller or Clifford Odets piece, speaking so poignantly to today with delicately crafted brilliance.
The play simply thrives under the care of a brilliant ensemble of actors who handle the piece with mastered grace. Robin Weigert powerfully leads the production as Brooke. JoBeth Williams is simply sublime as Polly Wyeth, an unforgiving and powerful matriarch who so cunningly steers the family. And Jeannie Berlin revels in the role of Silda Grauman, a recovering alcoholic and liberal sympathizer who relies on Polly and Lyman for support. Not to be forgotten are Robert Foxworth, who commands a vibrant and touching portrayal of Lyman Wyeth and Michael Weston as Trip Wyeth, who remains a solid base of support in what could be an easily overlooked role.
The production follows the delicate direction of Robert Egan, who weaves the pieces together with a subtle genius.
So often you wonder why with so much to say in this world, the theatre seems to be saying so little. But Other Desert Cities changes that tune in a very unexpected way.
This is an absolute must see for anyone with a fine taste and appreciation for that type of theatre that only skilled masters can create.
Other Desert Cities opened Sunday, December 9th, 2012 and will run through Sunday, January 6th, 2013 @:
The Mark Taper Forum
135 N. Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
call: (213) 628-2772
Photos by: Craig Schwartz