Goodman’s OTHER DESERT CITIES Brilliantly Controls The Narrative
During the first half hour of the sensational Other Desert Cities, which is currently receiving its Chicago premiere at the Goodman Theatre, I was taken back to some of the first episodes of the ABC television show Brothers & Sisters, where a book written by a family member pitted one against the next. Playwright Jon Robin Baitz interweaves a socio-political narrative over the backdrop of a family seemingly in exile in Palm Springs. The result is a fascinating look at the extents people and politicians go through in an attempt to control the narrative.
Other Desert Cities, which is coming off a very successful Broadway run, is intimately directed by Henry Wishcamper who has brought together an amazing ensemble cast that works together exquisitely. The time is Christmas of 2004 at the Wyeth family home in Palm Springs. The matriarch (Deanna Dunagan)and patriarch (Chelcie Ross) are Regan ideologues who both cut their teeth in old school Hollywood. Their conservative beliefs and the influence of the GOP creates a divide in the family which includes a deceased son, a manic depressive daughter (Tracy Michelle Arnold), a “reality” courtroom writing/sex addicted son (John Hoogenakker), and an alcoholic Aunt (Linda Kimbrough) whois the bane of her sister’s existence. When daughter Brooke brings forth her soon to be published book about her disfunctional family which focuses the suicide of her older brother, each family member positions themselves for the attack which unwinds in the most unexpected of ways.
Not only is Other Desert Cities, which is a reference to a sign on Interstate 10 which directs travelers either to Palm Springs or to the other cities which surround the community, but is also a nod to the ridiculous Iraq war which was the “result” of the 9.11 attacks. This allows the political dialogue; liberal vs. conservative, right and left, life and death to come forth.
Baitz work is truly an ensemble piece and are all times authentic in their portrayals. Ms. Dunagan is simply sensational as Polly and commands the stage with the right balance of humor and pathos. As Brooke, Ms. Arnold strikes the needed balance of a woman on the brink who is trying to reconcile her new found voice with a family that may be fundamentally misunderstood. Mr. Hoogenmakker’s Trip tries to keep the family together and gives great angst in his longing to be recognized for the success he has obtained. Linda Kimbrough is perfectly cast as the addicted Silda and Chelcie Ross is a heartbreaking as an emotionally devastated Lyman.
Adding to the realism of this family drama is the exquisite set design by Thomas Lynch who nails the desert decor as well as the Palm Canyon backdrop along with Kay Voyce’s vibrant half-Hollywood/half-resort costumes.
By the end of the Other Desert Cities you are so heavily invested in this family that their emotional dissent can’t help but move you to tears. Though the subject material is precise to the Wyeth’s, the bigger notion of being loved and accepted in a world which tells you that you are an outcast, resounds with universality.
Other Desert Cities runs through February 17, 2013 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312-443-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org, tickets $25 – $86,. Performances are Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, select Sundays at 7:30 pm, matinees on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission,. For calendar information please visit www.TheatreinChicago.com