A PASSIONATE PRODUCTION OF JON ROBIN BAITZ’S “OTHER DESERT CITIES”
The New Conservatory Theatre Center is currently presenting Jon Robin Baitz’s intense family drama “Other Desert Cities”. This is probably one of the most produced plays here and the United Kingdom in the past several years. Arturo Catricala has assembled a fine cast to present this two hour plus drama. This marks the third time I have seen the Baitz’s play
Watching this play again I was reminded of Edward Albee’s plays that use fractured families as metaphors for national division. The occasion is a 2004 Christmas family gathering at the affluent Palm Springs home of Polly (Michaela Greeley) and Lyman (Geoffrey Colton) Wyeth. Lyman is a former B action film actor and was appointed GOP chairman by President Ronald Regan while Polly has transformed herself from a Texas Jew into a scornfully straightforward goy. Both are still active on the Republican fundraising circuit. They share the home with Polly’s sister (Cheryl Smith), a reformed alcoholic but it is their children who come from a totally different world: their son Trip (Paul Collins) produces a popular TV reality show like “Judge Judy” while daughter Brooke (Melissa Keith) is a New York based writer who is completely a flaming liberal. Her parents hackle at their cheerless daughter calling that she is involved in “abhorrent and repugnant lefty politics”.
The family is floored when they learn that Brooke has written a book that involves her late brother Henry, a subject normally avoided by the family. Henry was involved with an underground radical group who was responsible for a bombing in 1970. He eventually leapt from a ferry in Seattle into oblivion. The story is about to be excerpted in a magazine before the book is publish. Needless to say, the parents are not very happy about this unwanted publicity.
The cast gives terrific performances under Arturo Catricala strong hand. There confrontations, speech rhythms and body language with one another are perfect. Melissa Keith gives an excellent performance as Brooke. She mines the character’s depths of desperateness with understanding and awareness and works up to a volcanic passion at the end of the play. Michaela Greeley is outstanding as the tough and emotional Polly. She skillfully captures the characters caustic grandeur in her speech.
Geoffrey Colton gives a splendid portrayal of Lyman as the arch conservative. He dominates the stage with his booming voice and impoverished charm. Cheryl Smith gives a strong performance as the recovering alcoholic sister Silda. Rounding out the cast is Paul Collins as the laid back Trip. He plays the character as an oddball person with a what-the-hell attitude.
Scenic designer Kuo-Hao Lo has transformed the set into a California desert upscale enclave with a view of the mountains surrounding Palm Springs in the background. The production also boasts Christian V. Mejia’s excellent desert-umber lighting along with Keri Fitch chic costumes.
“Other Desert Cities” runs through April 5th at the Decker Theatre of the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave at Market, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or on line at www.nctcsf.org Coming up next is Michael Perlman’s “From White Plains” opening on March 20th and later Jeffrey Hatcher “Compleat Female Stage Beauty” opening on May 15th.
Photo by Lois Tema