Smart, Sharply Funny ‘Other Desert Cities’ Tackles Art, Politics, Family Secrets
Are there secrets that should always be kept? In this smart, sharply funny and sensitive contemporary play, playwright Jon Robin Baitz folds art, politics and family secrets into a tumultuous drama that pits a liberal middle-aged writer against her conservative parents. Who owns a family’s history? There are no easy answers in “Other Desert Cities,” a 2012 Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, where certainty shifts like sand dunes in the wind.
“Other Desert Cities” performs April 8–26 in the Archbold Theatre at the Syracuse Stage/Drama Complex, 820 E. Genesee St. Discounted preview performances are April 8 and 9. The Opening Night performance is Friday, April 10, at 8 p.m. Tickets and info are available at http://www.syracusestage.org, by phone at 315-443-3275 and in person at the Syracuse Stage Box Office, Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Ticket discounts are available for groups of 10 or more at 315-443-9844. Discounts are also available for seniors, students and U.S. military personnel and veterans. Sign interpretation, open captioning and audio description services are available for select performances. This play contains mature situations and dialogue.
Playwright Jon Robin Baitz is known for his work in theater and television, having written for “The Slap,” “Brothers & Sisters,” “Alias” and “The West Wing.” His earlier plays, including “The Film Society” and “The Substance of Fire,” were successful off-Broadway, and “Other Desert Cities” was Baitz’ Broadway debut. “Other Desert Cities” opened at Lincoln Center Theatre in January 2011 and transferred to the Booth Theatre on Broadway in November 2011. The work was a Tony Award nominee for best play as well as a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
The play centers on themes of family, secrets and truths, but Baitz explained that politics also influenced his writing: “I strive to find the exact point in a narrative where the personal and political intersect perfectly, because I find the two things completely inseparable” (StageView).
“Other Desert Cities” is a relatively new play, and one that director Timothy Bond believes will resonate with audiences. “I was struck by the love, humor, political sparring and fragile emotions shared among the five characters that inhabit the play,” he shared in a Note from the Director (Program Book). “Set in Palm Springs, California, the events of the play occur on a single day, Christmas Eve of 2004, but the memories and the arguments of the play span the period from Vietnam to the post-9/11 invasion of Iraq.”
The story centers on the Wyeth family, which has been divided by location, politics and secrets. During the holiday season, their daughter, Brooke, returns home to reveal a manuscript that leads to conflict spanning generations. Her book exposes family secrets and causes the Wyeths to question themselves and what they thought they knew about one another.
Bond said that the play is “humorous and harrowing; Jon Robin Baitz has given us an emotionally complex family drama that frightens and comforts us with its central truth: Whether we name it or not, whatever we’re in, we’re in it together.” (Program Book)
The Syracuse Stage production of “Other Desert Cities” is co-produced with Portland Center Stage in Portland, Ore. The play performed there during February and March, where it was praised for “amazing writing, deftly handled by an expert cast under thoughtful direction” (BroadwayWorld.com), and the play “makes for an entertaining and thought-provoking evening of theater” (The Oregonian).
During the 2013/14 Season, Bond co-produced David Henry Hwang’s “Chinglish” with Portland Center Stage Artistic Director Chris Coleman. “That went so well that we said let’s find another project we can do, and we both loved ‘Other Desert Cities,’” said Bond. “One of the lead characters is coming from the East Coast and the other characters are on the West Coast, so it’s kind of fun to see how both cities will respond to the piece.”
Distinguished cast members with film, television and national theater credits include D’Arcy Dersham (Brooke Wyeth), Barbara Broughton (Polly Wyeth), Ned Schmidtke (Lyman Wyeth), Dori Legg (Silda Grauman) and Joel Reuben Ganz (Trip Wyeth). Designers include William Bloodgood (Scenic Designer), Devon Painter (Costume Designer), Dawn Chiang (Lighting Designer) and Casi Pacilio (Sound Designer). The stage manager is Stuart Plymesser. For complete bios, view online.