In an upscale California house in Palm Springs, the Wyeth family is gathering to celebrate the Christmas season. What is supposed to be a joyous occasion turns out, on this particular Christmas in 2004, to be when the Wyeth family’s lives are flipped upside down and secrets are revealed.
Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities, performed by the Vienna Theatre Company, is a roller coaster ride of emotion and energy that will keep you wanting more. Under the direction of Rosemary Hartman, Other Desert Cities does not disappoint.
The play opens in a large California living room in Palm Springs. With a set design by Skip Gresko, the space is versatile enough for all of the juicy drama that the play spits out. As the curtains opened and the set was revealed, a loud gasp could be heard from the audience, some of them even applauding the grand set design. With two oversized, bright floral chairs and a sofa as the center focus, the stage was outlined in tan brick wall, making a nice and cozy living space. At the back was a huge bay window which overlooked an eye-catching desert oasis. A fire pit, which looked and sounded like it was ablaze thanks to the magic of Chris Hardy and Benjamin Allen, could be seen behind the couches. Off to the side was an elegantly decorated Christmas with presents wrapped underneath.
Polly, played by Susan d. Garvey, enters the living room first with her family behind her. Susan’s energy and focus commanded and took over the stage the moment she entered. And that energy and commitment stuck with her through the entire show. That kind of commitment is needed when playing such a character as Polly, who is very set in her ways and unaccepting to change and order, especially when her daughter Brooke, played by Kathy Ohlhaber, rejoins the family after 6 years and is looking to publish the book she wrote on the Wyeth’s personal life.
Ohlhaber plays the character with an outstanding attention to detail. Brooke is a fragile daddy’s girl, who shows no indication of love for her mother. They repeatedly find themselves in heated arguments, which are marvelously done by the two female actresses. Both Susan and Kathy work very well together and their chemistry is undeniable. That goes for the entire cast, as I really felt as though I was watching a tangible family struggling with these problems.
Patrick David, who plays the staunch Republican Lyman Wyeth, starts off as a sweet and caring father, and as the show progresses we see him morph into a man concerned about his wellbeing and good name rather than his daughter’s happiness. David makes this transition seamlessly, showing no hint of remorse for his actions. Even at one point making the ironic comment that the desert is always colder at night. The second act is where we really see Patrick shine. In a dramatic and emotional monologue Patrick tells the truth about the true secrets the family holds. It’s hard not to shed a tear for Patrick and his character as he seems as if he is about to die of grief, a scene that sent my skin crawling.
Also a part of the family is brother Trip Wyeth (Jeff McDermott) and alcoholic Aunt Silda Grauman (Jessie Roberts) both of whom add some comic relief to the intense drama. Roberts is not shy on the stage and has the audience laughing as she tells us how she used to be an alcoholic and is now out of rehab. She acts as a very sturdy neutral character between the conflicting family members. With her strong comedic timing and acting skills, Roberts is a forced to be reckoned with. The son, Trip, trying desperately to escape from stating his opinion on Brooke’s book, does a very nice job at keeping calm even under the pressure. McDermott knows what he’s doing when it comes to consoling Kathy and again, the two have good chemistry. He has a strong stage presence that allows him to create a very believable character that is both understanding yet extremely opinionated.
Helping tell the story is the lighting plot designed by Chris Hardy. The lights reflected the time of the day, which helped create an atmosphere that echoed the action onstage. As the evening progressed and the drama unfolded, the lights would get darker, indicating that night had settled upon them.
Helping compliment the set was Susan Boyd’s costumes. Polly, wearing extremely elegant outfits which showed off her wealth also had colors that matched with the tan walls and red floral furniture. I was also very impressed that each new scene brought a different costume for each of the actors.
Other Desert Cities is about secrets and the importance of truth. Vienna Community Theatre does a great job of capturing the essence of Jon Robin Baitz’s play. There is never a dull moment in this superb production, with action and secrets around every corner.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Other Desert Cities plays through May 3, 2015 at Vienna Theatre Company performing at The Vienna Community Center – 120 Cherry Street. SE, in Vienna, VA. Ticket information is here.
Meet the Director and Cast of Vienna Theatre Company’s ‘Other Desert Cities’: Part 1: Jessie Roberts and Susan d. Garvey.
Meet the Director and Cast of Vienna Theatre Company’s ‘Other Desert Cities’ Part 2: Director Rosemary Hartman By Richard Durkin.
Meet the Director and Cast of Vienna Theatre Company’s ‘Other Desert Cities’ Part 3: Kathy Ohlhaber.
Vienna Theatre Company’s ‘Other Desert Cities’ Opens Tonight-Interviews with the Director and 3 Cast Members.