Spending Christmas Eve with your family can sometimes be a trying experience. Especially if you belong to the very rich, very Republican Wyeth family celebrating the holiday in their very pristine beige living room in very sunny Palm Springs, 2004. Celebrating is perhaps not the correct word. It’s more like pretending to celebrate.
Pretending is the operative word here. And playwright Jon Robin Baitz in “Other Desert Cities” now running at the Mitzi E. Newhouse at Lincoln Center seems to have mastered the art of having his characters pretend so well that they believe what it is that they are all trying to deny.
Once we meet them, it’s hard to imagine this family exchanging the exquisitely wrapped gifts so perfectly arranged under the artfully decorated artificial Christmas tree. As artificial as they are with each other. Keeping secrets. Pretending.
That is until rebellious Brooke (Elizabeth Marvel) after a six year absence from family and writing due to a long bout of depression drops a bombshell. Actually it’s a manuscript. A memoir. About to be published. Dealing with a very private family matter that sets the plot a turning and a twisting.
Her mother Polly (Stockard Channing) sounding and looking every inch the Right Wing woman that she is when she isn’t sounding and looking every inch a tough, acerbic Marine is incensed that Brooke had the nerve to even write about the death of her brother Henry. Her dad Lyman (Stacy Keach) an ex-actor, friend of the Reagans and the Annenbergs and ex- Ambassador refuses to comment. Baby brother Trip (Thomas Sadoski) a TV producer of questionable taste mediates while Polly’s sister and ex-writing partner Silda Grauman (the amazing Linda Lavin) tries to stay on the wagon – whiffing instead the vapors of some booze brewing in a cup of tea.
Fun and family games are played out as the truth of the situation slowly emerges leading to a somewhat melodramatic ending where we are left wondering why it took so long for them to reach this level of communication. And wondering what happens next.
Director Joe Mantello has guided his couldn’t-be-better-cast with great craft. Guiding them through their perilous journey at telling the truth, dropping pretences, accepting the consequences of their actions (or not) and coming to terms with the how and the why of brother Henry’s death – his true character, his anti war sentiments, his involvement in a bombing – all put forth in Brooke’s tell-all memoir.
The perfect Palm Springs set is by John Lee Beatty. The honest costumes designed by David Zinn. Kenneth Posner has added appropriate lighting to enhance the stage pictures created by Mr. Mantello, especially the final tableau.
www.lct.org Art work by Ken Fallin
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