Other Desert Cities: My Review


Move over, Addams Family.

The most intriguingly dysfunctional clan in town is now the one in Jon Robin Baitz‘s Other Desert Cities, in which a tell-all book manuscript surfacing at Christmastime puts the hell back in holidays.

Stacy Keach and Stockard Channing play country-clubbing Republican marrieds in Palm Springs, the latter prone to dropping Nancy Reagan’s name and spouting wisdoms like, “Sarcasm is the purview of teenagers and homosexuals.”

Their son (Thomas Sadowski) is a petulant but sometimes illuminating hack who produces a judicial TV show on which the jury consists of has-been celebrities (as Stockard reminds him with, yes, sarcasm).

Stockard’s sis (played by Judith Light) is an alcoholic who wears fake Pucci but generally spouts aching truths about everything except herself.

And back home after a breakdown is daughter Rachel Griffiths, who’s just penned a book designed to blame the folks for the suicide of her brother the radical all those icky years ago.

Oh, yeah, there was the little matter of that suicide, a wound that will get opened way before any potential gifts do.

Baitz’s initial banter is fun, but in Act Two dimensions are added and the play becomes Tennessee Williams-like in its recriminations, revelations, and shifting loyalties, going beyond the scope of the usual “someone’s spilling the beans” drama.

As the rage boils to a head, the characters (two of whom love saying “I know myself”) find that they never really knew each other, and they’re in for a few shocks that are well-played by a cast of well-knowns.

In the Joe Mantello-directed production, Channing is perfection in what is basically a very Stockard Channing role, Griffiths does well with her percolating rage, and Light scores when exploding into righteousness. (It’s not her fault that I could still hear Linda Lavin’s inflections in my mind — and I didn’t even see Lavin in the part!)

So, while they’re altogether ooky — and sometimes downright barbaric — the Wyeths make for some very civilized theater.

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