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Theater Review: Other Desert Cities

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Other Desert Cities introduces a family with a tragic past, the Wyeths. Brooke Wyeth has written a memoir about her family’s history and during a family gathering tries to get their blessing on this public disclosure, not knowing that her work has been premised on a misunderstanding of what transpired.

Brooke, a writer who lives in Sag Harbor, NY, has not been home in six years, but has just sold a manuscript that she wants to share with her parents. Her brother, Trip, is a television producer in Los Angeles. Mr. and Mrs. Wyeth are archetypal California Wasps (albeit partially Jewish wasps); staunch GOP supporters whose speech is peppered with vaguely racist and homophobic comments. (To be accurate, the mild slurs can only be attributed to the matriarch of the family.)

At first, the writing fell pray to the Gilmore Girls syndrome. There was banter overkill and far too much pretentious language crammed into the family dialogue. It felt unnatural and irksome. As the play progressed, however, this stilted “we are just such an articulate and witty family” way of speaking yielded to much more organic discourse, for the most part. The jokes throughout the play still left much to be desired. They were predictable and banal, playing on typical squabbles between the conservative and liberal minded, or expected “she’s so nutty” lines from the recently sober and wacky aunt fresh from rehab and crashing with her sister and brother-in-law.

I also can’t say that the story seemed particularly fresh. Even the twist at the end resounded with very little impact. Though I didn’t actually predict it, nothing felt surprising. It was fun as a California-born New York transplant, to hear discussion of the coast divide and note the fantastic job the set creator did in designing the interior of the home. And despite my listed negative perspectives, the performance as a whole was a good one. The actors really settled into their roles as the play went on, and their personalities and attendant neuroses shone through. Elizabeth Marvel, though I found her character to be a grating one, did a fantastic job of conveying the heaviness and restlessness of depression and the oft inevitable narcissism that belongs to it. (I would like to note that I do not mean that to be derogatory. I think it is simply a function of many mental issues to be preoccupied with self and suffer a limited perspective.) And in what I found to be the most interesting emotional exploration of the play, Justin Kirk conveyed nicely that depression and existential despair do not always manifest in typical fashion.

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