Politics – – Does Not a Family Make!

(L) Micah Watterson, Emily Keyishian (L R), Sally Hogarty (UR)
Photo credit: Marian Bliss

This past week, the Role Players Ensemble in Danville presented their stunning interpretation of Jon Robin Baitz’s tumultuous and unnerving family drama play, Other Desert Cities, in the Village Theater in Danville. The first off-Broadway production of this intense play opened in the spring of 2011, followed just a few months later with the Broadway production opening in the Booth Theater in November of 2001. This politically charged family drama ultimately received five nominations for the 2012 Tony awards, and became a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

I can only imagine how exhilarating, intriguing, and frustrating it must be for a family to live a political dream. With our current political climate in this country, I can only believe that families are more torn apart than ever, if they are not in perfect concurrence with each other on their political beliefs. Director Chloe Bronzan is the daughter of Bruce Bronson, who was a member of the California State assembly from 1983 to 1992, serving in the 31st assembly District. In remarkably similar circumstances to the characters in this play, Chloe’s father started off  majoring in theater, wanting to be an actor but switched to political science and found that he had a gift for public service. I feel because she is a woman who grew up being part of a political family and has had to live were privacy is very hard to sustain, that this has given her an almost clairvoyant understanding of the characters in this play, Other Desert Cities, that she has just directed.

The story opens with the Wyeth family gathering in their Palm Springs home on Christmas Eve in 2004 that is anything but your typical joyous uplifting Christmas Eve gathering. Daughter Brooke (Emily M. Keyishian) has just returned home from New York following six years mostly isolated from her family. During her long absence from them she has been trying to survive while attempting to write another book to follow the success of her first published work, years earlier. Brooke has not only been dealing with her personal problems including time spent in a rehab center following the breakup of her marriage, but she has also been plagued with continuing despondency over the tragic suicide of her older brother, Henry, who was also her best friend. Her father, Lyman Wyeth (Christain Phillips), previously a very successful Hollywood actor turned politician, is now in retirement. His wife, Polly Wyeth (Christine Macomber), the stalwart politicians wife and supporter, has acquiesced to allowing her recovering alcoholic sister, Silda (Sally Hogarty), to live with them. Brooke’s younger brother, Trip (Mica Watterson), home for the holidays, is a kindred liberal political soul-mate with his sister Brooke , while their parents are died-in-the-wool, hard core, ultra-conservative Republicans. The real test of this gathering will be how the family handles the subject matter of her new book, an autobiographical book willing to expose family secrets, including the parents’ stalwart belief in the Republican’s support for the Korean War, and their lack of willingness to hear their children’s arguments against that war, which she believes ultimately led her brother to engage in actions against a system he did not believe in, actions which may have contributed to his death! However, there may be an even more stunning story yet to arise, another window to be opened, and one you absolutely should not miss!

The first act kind of drags as the story develops, but in the second act the play gains great momentum, becoming more intriguing and pulse pounding with every passing minute. While this is certainly not a child-friendly play, it will be a memorable story, a memorable production in which director, Chloe Bronsan, secured terrific actors, a great set design and construction team (Robert “Bo” Golden and Lisa Danz), costume designer (Carole Robinson), and interim Artistic Director, Scott Fryer.

This powerful, spirited and engaging play continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm with Sunday performances at 2 pm, now through November 4th.  Tickets are a very reasonable, $25 and $35 each, online at www.RolePlayersEnsemble.com or call (925) 314-3400 or purchase tickets at the theater up to 45 minutes before the production. The Theater is located at 233 Front Street. The parking is much more difficult at present as the Gagen McCoy commercial building at 279 Front Street has been torn down and is being replaced by a new city parking lot adjacent to the theatre. This may mean that you will have to walk farther from Hartz or Railroad Streets parking to access the theater on Front Street. Also, the Danville Library is a relatively good place to park and walk from.

# Charles Jarrett#

About the Author

Charles JarrettTheater reviewer for the Rossmoor News for 29 years, a professional theatrical photographer (Megaline Photographic Design - Alamo, CA) and news paper reporter for 15 years, currently with the Orinda News as a staff photographer and reporter.View all posts by Charles Jarrett →