Front Row Center – May 2016

Front Row Center

By Michael Warren

Other Desert Cities
By Jon Robin Baitz
Directed by Russell Mack


front rowThis play is set in 2004 during the Bush-era Iraq war, and was first produced on Broadway in 2011. The theme of family love in spite of personal and political divisions is even more appropriate today, as this dysfunctional family becomes a mirror for the polarized United States. The parents “Lyman and Polly Wyeth” are old-fashioned Reaganites, while daughter “Brooke” is a rebellious Democrat.

Also home for Christmas is younger son “Trip” who makes his living in Hollywood producing a corny fake trial show, and Polly’s sister “Silda” who is a recovering alcoholic with a bitter tongue. Can they get through Christmas without killing each other? Probably not. There’s a ghost at the table, that of Brooke’s brother “Henry” who evidently committed suicide after joining a radical left-wing group, which was then involved in a bomb attack on an army recruiting station. This terrible family secret is about to be revealed, discussed and analyzed in public because Brooke has written a family memoir, which will be published very soon. She’d like them all to read it, and tell her what they think. It’s going to be an extremely painful holiday.     

The actors all lived their parts in this cleverly written play. Candace Luciano was excellent as the controlled (and controlling) matriarch “Polly” who models herself on her friend Nancy Reagan. She was entirely believable and commanded the stage from her first entrance. Peter Luciano played husband Lyman with skill as an ex-movie actor who was appointed an Ambassador by Ronnie Reagan. His was a more sympathetic character and we felt his pain. Debra Bowers was wonderful as the conflicted daughter, while Damyn Young came across well as “Trip” the peacemaker in the family. Finally Collette Clavadetscher had a lot of fun – and some of the best lines – as “Aunt Silda” who’s washed up and trying not to fall off the wagon. These were all real people, and director Russell Mack deserves a lot of credit for his sensitive handling of the intense and complicated character interplay.

The set was airy and spacious, and we felt we were in a Palm Springs ranch-style home. I particularly appreciated the use of the downstage apron, which enlarged the stage and brought the actors closer to the audience. Also worthy of mention was the use of a rear projector with time lapse photography for the desert sky, seen through the window at the back of the stage. Set design was by Russell Mack, and credit for the sky goes to J.E. Jack. It’s these little extra touches that make a play a pleasure to watch. Congratulations also to Stage Manager Leslie DeCarl, Assistant Stage Manager Rob Stupple, and Producer Patteye Simpson and all the hardworking backstage crew.

So ends an interesting and well-balanced Season 51, with two dramas, a step-dance play, a farce, a murder mystery, and a musical with singing and dancing nuns. See you next fall!       

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