The 2013-2014 season has just begun and I am declaring “Other Desert Cities” currently playing at www.theatreworks.org as an absolutely “must watch” play of the season. Playwright Jon Robin Baitz was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and received a Tony nomination for Best Play. “On the edge of the sea”, in Palm Springs, California, in the land of “endless sunshine”, lives a patriarch of the family, a kind, affable man, Lyman, who is professionally the GOP chair, his wife Polly, the matriarch of the family who embodies Republican values in words and deeds, and is fiercely disciplined and demanding of perfection, from her family, and her sister Silda, who is a writer and a liberal. James Sutorius, in his first Theatreworks appearance as Lyman, and Julia Brothers as Silda, are absolutely fantastic, and Kandis Chappell, who has appeared in over 30 productions, in the Bay Area, carries her role as Polly, with marvelous perfection. They are joined during Christmas holidays, by their two children Trip and Brooke, superbly played by Rod Brogan and Kate Turnbull.
The family drama that unfolds when two extremely liberal grown children join their highly conservative parents and a liberal aunt with problems of her own, is a reflection of the broader cultural and political divide, in the country, where each side is often determined to impose its vision of America on the other, where each side fiercely believes that their vision for the country is ethically and morally superior, and any compromise would be akin to betraying these deep moral standards. And yet, in this family, under highly contentious and razor sharp retorts, there is deep love. The complexity of issues is so intense, depth of characters is so masterful, the dialogs are packed with so much punch, that this is a play that can be watched more than once.
Polly, the matriarch, demands a lot from her family, but also holds her family together, and is like a rock on whom everyone leans for support. When she says, “the only way to have someone not be an invalid is to not treat them like they are invalid”, it evokes a sharp retort from her liberal sister, Silda, “and there you have it, entire GOP platform, in a nutshell”. Her children, especially Brooke is constantly at odds with Polly. In response to her children’s sharp retorts, Polly says in exasperation, “Why is it that children are allowed endless series of free passes in life”. This play contains so much and offers so many thought provoking issues. There is family drama, political divide, mystery, intrigue, cultural and ideological war, razor sharp wit, humor, tragedy, love that tugs at the heart and love that holds the family together, in its divided state. I laughed and I cried and thought and rethought and I am ready to see the play again.
Theatreworks and Artistic Director Robert Kelley deserve the kudos for bringing the most awesome plays to the Bay Area. Director, Richard Seer has done a superb job. Stage Manager, Radall K. Lum, Assistant Stage Manager, Emily Anderson Wolf, and Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge have done a masterful job in the set. The stage reflects a multi-million dollar Californian home and the many symbolic elements on the stage include a beautiful free standing fireplace that gives the chills, when the air in the room gets too heavy, and the characters get lonely in their own home.
If you love theater, you must watch this play. If you are not sure about the power of live theater in touching you deeply, then watch this play. If you are a liberal, you will love the wit and the humor. If you a conservative, you will enjoy the characters of Lyman and Pollie who despite the potshots directed at them, create a loving and supporting home. If you enjoy unraveling the mystery, dialogs that make you laugh, dialogs that make you cry, then watch the play. For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org.