Celebrated author Brooke Wyeth (Lydia Mackay) has been suffering from a dry spell. That is until recently, when she wrote a memoir from a profoundly painful chapter in her family’s past. The book is as yet unpublished (though serial rights confirmed) and she has returned this Christmas of 2004 to her parents’ (Polly and Lyman) home in Palm Springs, to get their support, if not their blessing. Her brother Trip (Jeff Burleson) has returned as well, and their Aunt Silda (a recovering alcoholic) is living in the spare bedroom. Brooke’s book concerns the suicide of an older brother whose politics (to put it kindly) were at odds with their conservative parents. Lyman (John S. Davies) and Polly are Hollywood elite, Lyman a former screen star, and Polly (and Silda) accomplished screen writers. Brooke understands this exposé is going to be a difficult pitch, and the holidays seem like a particularly inopportune time.
The Wyeths are a quirky bunch. A Jewish woman from Texas, Polly embraces assimilation, Trip produces a cheesy courtroom reality show, Silda (Cindee Mayfield) is the quintessential acerbic Aunt, unflinchingly frank and sharp as a scalpel. There is no question of their fierce love for one another (though they argue with the same intensity) They are intelligent, quick, wry, and quite genuine. Polly (Connie Coit) immediately suspects there is a purpose in Brooke’s timing, and the unspoken dread that culminates before she reveals the subject of her new book is palpable. As the play progresses, it becomes clear that Brooke is not only confronting Polly and Lyman’s transgressions, but resolving the catastrophe that has damaged their lives.
Such is the premise of Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities, a political allegory and familial drama that starts out feeling like acrid comedy and gradually becomes more heated, and stricken. Brooke seems to have taken the tragedy to heart more than the others, but there’s good reason. By show’s end, we too, are made privy to certain undisclosed details, but more than that, Other Desert Cities involves Brooke’s reconciliation with Lyman and Polly. The second act involves a showdown of sorts, but it doesn’t play like psychodrama. It considers the role of compromise in the context of crucial attachments. This visit from Brooke, becomes a watershed for the malaise that has infected the Wyeths, and is every bit as absorbing (if more understated) than say, Long Days Journey Into Night or The Subject was Roses.
With a gifted, canny, witty and erudite cast at the helm, director Jac Alder navigates this material with incision, precision and aplomb. This is one of the strongest gatherings of actors I’ve seen in a single piece and the effect was overwhelming, amusing and resonant. In lesser hands the show might have lapsed into melodrama or tirade, but Theatre Three’s production of Other Desert Cities is a blissful, provocative, engaging triumph. Don’t miss it.
Theatre 3 presents Other Desert Cities November 23rd-December 15th, 2013. 2800 Routh Street, Suite 168, Dallas, Texas 75201. 214-871-3300. www.theatre3dallas.com