Monday, February 7, 2011

On the Brink of War in 'Other Desert Cities'

Brooke (Elizabeth Marvel) wants to reveal family secrets against the wishes of her father and mother, Polly (Stockard Channing), in "Other Desert Cities." Photos by Joan Marcus.


“Other Desert Cities”
is the telegenic new play by Jon Robin Baitz. It is also a road sign directing drivers beyond the Palm Springs locale.

Finally, it alludes to those war zones where America has been engaged. Currently playing at Lincoln Center Theater’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater through 27 Feb, "Other Desert Cities" is looking to extend its run at a Broadway home.

Politics is a big part of this family drama set at Christmas 2004. The elder Wyeths, Polly (Stockard Channing) and Lyman (Stacy Keach), are minor California Republican celebrities – he, a Reagan-era ambassador: she, the noise behind the man. Their apolitical son, Tripp (Thomas Sadoski), produces reality shows for television.

Elizabeth Marvel, Stacy Keach and Thomas Sadoski as members of a family going through a difficult stretch in "Other Desert Cities."

Daughter, Brooke (Elizabeth Marvel), is a novelist who returns to her parent’s home in Palm Springs after some six years spent mainly in a mental hospital on the East Coast. She has re-imagined the mystery of her elder brother, Henry’s, disappearance 30 years earlier and brings her conclusions to her parents for their pre-publication blessing in a box of Xeroxed manuscripts.

Henry, in defiance of his parents, had been an anti-Vietnam War activist. Brooke reconstructs the story of her brother’s suicide with the encouragement of both Tripp and her aunt Silda Grauman (Linda Lavin). Memory and truth are very personal. (See videos from “Other Desert Cities” at

Polly and Lyman are adamantly against Brooke’s memoir being published. They cajole and threaten. Polly suggests that although she will always love her daughter, she will never again welcome her into the family home if the book is released.

Thomas Sadoski as politically apathetic son, Tripp, and Stockard Channing as Polly, a political animal of a mother in "Other Desert Cities."

SC plays a steely, determined and self-assured woman with humor and humanity. SK’s Lyman is a loving father who only wants to keep his family around him. His sadness over the memoir and the loss of the family’s privacy is palpable.

Despite their political differences the Wyeths are a loving, caring family. Polly and Silda had been screenwriting partners until a long-ago falling out. Nonetheless, the alcoholic Silda is drying out in the Wyeths’ guestroom. LL and SC, in the brief time they share the stage, exchange quips and gentle rejoinders with the perfect timing of comic pros.

EM is a masterful actress. In one scene her seemingly impassive face suddenly goes from indignation to jaw-dropping shock. She is glib and lively while surrounded by her family. Alone in another scene, EM’s eyes betray the pain that forces Brooke to take to her medication.

Silda Grauman (Linda Lavin) encourages her niece, Brooke (Elizabeth Marvel), to follow her dreams over the objections of her parents in "Other Desert Cities."

Jon Robin Baitz, the man/mind behind “Other Desert Cities,” has had a peripatetic career: as a TV producer he created (and was fired from) ABC’s “Brothers and Sisters.” He has worked on films, most notably “One Fine Day” with Michelle Pfeiffer; at HBO, he was a screenwriter. Also on his resume are numerous other playwrighting credits, including “Substance of Fire,” for which he also wrote the screen adaptation.

“Other Desert Cities,” the latest addition to JRB’s theater resume, is the third of his plays to be staged at Lincoln Center Theater.

Visit to learn more about “Other Desert Cities.”

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