Photo by Don Kellogg

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Other Desert Cities

Perhaps the working title of this play used to be How to Ruin a Family in 12 Easy Steps.  Boy oh boy, What a punch this play packs!  The brilliant playwright Jon Robin Baitz is back from his brief detour to Hollywood and very glad we should be.  Under the direction of Joe Mantello, this production hits all the high notes in all the right places - comedy, religion, social commentary, drama and politics - all within the confines of the (very) white, upper middle class Palm Springs, California home of the Wyeth family.

Take all those powder-keg ingredients and toss in a top notch cast - Linda Lavin, Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach, Elizabeth Marvel, and the very sexy Thomas Sadowski and you've got a 2 1/2 hour weapon of mass destruction on your hands.   How did news of this stellar cast escape the news media, PR people, and me?.   I'm just glad my good friend, Donna, sent me the Playbill offer and I could end the year on such a high quality note as seeing this cast perform this play.

So what's it about?  It's about family, secrets, lies, love, protecting, and possibly at the same time, potentially destroying your children and your entire family.  In many ways, this play is like an season of Brothers and Sisters concentrated into two power-packed acts.  I mention this specifically because I was thinking about the similarities in format and style the entire time I was watching the family drama unfold.  I only realized afterwards as I was reading my playbill that Jon Robin Baitz actually wrote for the series for a season.  Now it all makes sense.

There are a few minor points that I'd like to see clarified in the text - one being the time frame - it's not until you really do the math that you realize the incident they are all dancing around happened in the 1970's (most of the audience spent the intermission discussing the math of how old the characters all were) and the other has to do with the ending.  No spoilers - but let's just say it was not clear to me right away what Mr. and Mrs. Wyeth actually did - it happened too quickly and was not clearly articulated.  It was perhaps the most important revelation of the entire play and it was done too quickly, I had about 3 versions of what was running in my head in parallel for a while.

Whether you like the family drama format, the actors, or the playwright - (or maybe all of the above) - Run, Don't walk - over to the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center and catch a performance of Other Desert Cities. It's currently in previews with an opening night slated for January 13th.  I think this one will be around for a while.  I could even imagine a Broadway transfer being discussed.  Hey - if God of Carnage can do it, this one is a shoe in.