The Goodman Theatre in Chicago continues its tradition of bringing the latest and greatest talent to its stage with Jon Robin Baitz’s “Other Desert Cities,” currently playing through Feb. 17.
Baitz’s story, set on Christmas Eve in the well-to-do Palm Springs home of Lyman and Polly Wyeth, is not about the holidays, but how family secrets can rip a family apart.
When daughter Brooke, a troubled writer with a history of emotional problems, arrives from her East Coast home with her tell-all memoir, the family erupts with the anger and frustration that each of its members has harbored for years.
Brooke, played by Tracy Michelle Arnold, wants her parents’ blessing to publish her book. Her memoir focuses on the apparent suicide of her older anti-war activist brother when Brooke was a child and her younger brother, Trip, was too young to remember much about the incident.
This is a seemingly strange request by Brooke, especially because she paints her politically conservative parents with a harshly accusatory brush. She openly blames them for her brother’s death and accuses them of not helping him when he needed it most.
Her parents are devastated by Brooke’s telling of the family story.
Family matriarch Polly Wyeth, fabulously portrayed by Deanna Dunagan, and her husband Lyman, with Chelcie Ross also giving a stunning performance, have modeled their lives after the Reagans. Lyman was an actor turned ambassador, the couple is active in Republican politics and Polly refers to “Nancy” as her role model.
Once Brooke gives copies of her book to her parents and brother to read, Trip, a California producer of what Brooke deems to be a trivial television show, cautions his sister on what she plans to do. Hoogenakker brings just the right humor and compassion to play. He’s a brother who loves and supports his sister, but would prefer to bring peace to the family.
Trip sees the influence of Silda – their aunt and the alcoholic sister of Polly – who he realizes Brooke has secretly enlisted for information about their parents.
Silda, played by the well-cast Linda Kimbrough, also has issues with her sister. Kimbrough plays Silda with a delightfully caustic mix of disdain and appreciation for her sister, and herself.
As dramatic as this show is, Baitz has written it with plenty of humor and compassion. Expertly directed by Henry Wishcamper, this show demonstrates the need for, and danger of, family secrets and the pitfalls of holding and sharing them.
This thought-provoking, serious and yet humorous staging of “Other Desert Cities” is highly recommended.
“Other Desert Cities” runs through Feb. 17 at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago. For tickets and information visit the theater’s website or call 312-443-3800.