Family Flashpoint: ‘Other Desert Cities’ Opens at Silver Spring Stage on April 4th by Lennie Magida


If families existed without conflict, stress, heartbreak, and deception—and if those difficulties weren’t often laced with great wit—many wonderful plays would never have been written.

One excellent example: Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities, which opens April 4th at Silver Spring Stage. It’s the compelling story of a specific family – the Wyeths of Palm Springs, California. But, as Director Bridget Muehlberger says, “It pivots upon a contest of wills between daughter and mother, and it encompasses the push-pull dynamic of love, family, rebellion, conflicting value systems and loyalty—universal themes common to any family.”

L to R: Henry LaGue (Trip), Malinda Smith (Silda), Andrea Spitz (Brooke), Jane Squier Bruns (Polly), and Bill Hurlbut (Lyman). Photo by Karen Fleming.
L to R: Henry LaGue (Trip), Malinda Smith (Silda), Andrea Spitz (Brooke), Jane Squier Bruns (Polly), and Bill Hurlbut (Lyman). Photo by Karen Fleming.

In Other Desert Cities, writer Brooke Wyeth, who lives on Long Island and has a history of depression, returns to Palm Springs after a six-year absence to celebrate Christmas with her family. That includes her iron-willed mother, Polly, and actor-turned-politician father, Lyman, both of them passionate Republicans; her younger brother, Trip, a reality TV producer; and Polly’s sister and former screenwriting partner, Silda, an ardent liberal and tentatively recovering alcoholic. While there, Brooke announces that her upcoming book is not another novel, but a memoir that delves into the long-ago suicide of her older brother Henry, a radical left-wing activist. The prospect of opening that wound horrifies Polly and Lyman, but Brooke is determined—and from there the play unfolds.

Andrea Spitz, who plays Brooke, says Other Desert Cities, “Is really about the nature of truth, and the idea that nobody ever knows the whole truth.” Brooke sees herself as a truth-teller in her memoir, but her book proves to be both a flashpoint and a crossroads for her family—a clan that Malinda Smith, who plays Silda, describes as “a southern California version of a Tennessee Williams dysfunctional family.” Tensions are particularly strong between Brooke and Polly. But at heart they and the rest of the Wyeths “all love each other—even when they don’t like or respect each other,” says Spitz.

Bill Hurlbut (Lyman) and  Andrea Spitz (Brooke). Photo by Karen Fleming.
Bill Hurlbut (Lyman) and Andrea Spitz (Brooke). Photo by Karen Fleming.

Although political disagreement is a strong current in Other Desert Cities, this is not a political play. Rather, says Henry LaGue, who plays Trip, says, “Politics is a frame through which a family story is told.” And just as he espouses no political viewpoint, playwright Baitz takes no sides among his characters. Says Muehlberger, “The beauty of Baitz’s writing is that he forces your alliances with each character to shift. He doesn’t make judgments, but lets us see all sides,” often through “biting wit and razor-sharp insights.”

As a result, says Jane Squier Bruns, who plays Polly, “Audiences will in turn sympathize with and be annoyed by each character”—much as we often do with our own family members. Bill Hurlbut, who plays Lyman, says that, “People will see themselves in the Wyeths because all families are complex ‘ecosystems’ of emotions, beliefs, conflicts, and love, and they require constant attention to thrive.”

Set in Polly and Lyman’s “desert city” living room, Other Desert Cities is perfectly suited to Silver Spring Stage’s intimate environment, its award-winning creative strengths, and its mission of presenting the best in contemporary plays. “Audiences appreciate good storytelling that makes them think, laugh, and feel,” says Muehlberger. “Other Desert Cities provides all of that.”

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Silver Spring Stage’s production of Other Desert Cities runs weekends April 4-27 (Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., plus Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on April 13 and 27). Regular ticket price is $20, but $10 tickets are available for select performances on Goldstar. There is also a Pay-What-You-Can preview on Thursday, April 3 at 8 p.m. The Stage is located in the Woodmoor Shopping Center – 10145 Colesville Road, in  Silver Spring, MD.


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