In Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz, when daughter Brooke (Tracy Michelle Arnold), a New York writer, arrives at her parents’ Palm Springs home for Christmas, she brings a tell-all manuscript on how she lost an older brother.
Brooke wants their support even though the proposed book blames them for her brother’s actions.
Political and personal accusations zing between liberal-minded daughter and her Regan-era conservative mother, Polly Wyeth ( Deanna Dunagan), and between Polly, a former Hollywood writer and her liberal, co-writer and sister, Silda (Linda Kimbrough), an alcoholic who is staying at the Wyeths.
The father, Lyman (Chelcie Ross), an equally conservative Republican who served as a GOP chairman and ambassador, and Brooke’s younger brother Trip (John Hoogenakker), a laid-back reality-TV producer, provide foils against stabbing thrusts.
Palm Springs’ country-club atmosphere as a second home to former Hollywood personalities and wealthy retirees, is also a factor. Indeed, the set is a gorgeous model of a Palm Springs’ home.
Baitz has given Silda most of the smart retorts. When Palm Springs is mentioned as a haven, she notes that it is not a refuge, “ it’s King Tut’s Tomb.” Trip gets some good lines too such as when the possibility of the parents going to court to stop publication is mentioned. He says they don’t need a small claims court, “you need a war tribunal.”
In the end, no tribunal is necessary. Brooke’s confrontation results in her parents revealing a secret that heals rifts and relationships.
“Other Desert Cities” is perfectly cast. The tall and stately Ross (“August: Osage County in London and Sydney, Australia) is exactly right as Lyman, a Hollywood actor who starred in action films before turning to politics. Dunagan, (original “August: Osage County” at Steppenwolf Theatre cast and Broadway, London and Australia casts) easily donned the controlling mother roll.
Arnold (Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Northlight and Writers’ Theater, has the eye-lifting, shoulder shrugging expressions of a daughter down pat. Hoogenakker was in Coodman Theatre’s the award-winning “The Iceman Cometh” and shows at Writers’ Theatre, Court Theatre, Steppenwolf and Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Kimbrough (Goodman, Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare Theater), is funny and sympathetic as the polar opposite of sister Polly.
Henry Wishcamper directed the Baitz play with a fine understanding of the volatility of family relationships.
Details: “Other Desert Cities” runs now through Feb. 17, 2013. Tickets are $25-$86. For tickets and more information visit Goodman and call 312-443-3800. Goodman Theatre is at170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60601.