Lincoln Center Theater
At the Mitzi E. Newhouse
Under the Direction of Andre Bishop and Bernard Gersten
Other Desert Cities
(Other Desert Cities Website)
By Jon Robin Baitz
Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach, Linda Lavin,
Elizabeth Marvel, Thomas Sadoski
Directed by Joe Mantello
Scenery: John Lee Beatty
Costumes: David Zinn
Lighting: Kenneth Posner
Sound: Jill BC DuBoff
Original Music: Justin Ellington
Stage Manager: James Fitzsimmons
Casting: Daniel Swee
Director of Development: Hattie K. Jutagir
Director of Marketing: Linda Mason Ross
General Press Agent: Philip Rinaldi
General Manager: Adam Siegel
Production Manager: Jeff Hamlin
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 26, 2011
Christmas always conjures family visits, and family visits conjure the element of the unknown, in fertile ground for simmering tension. A 2004 Christmas scene, in the contemporarily elegant, Palm Springs living room of Lyman (Stacy Keach) Wyeth and Polly (Stockard Channing) Wyeth, brings two of their children home for the Holidays. Brooke (Elizabeth Marvel) Wyeth is recuperating from depression and a mental breakdown, but she has a surprise for the family: a family memoir. Trip (Thomas Sadoski) Wyeth has a reality television show, and, in contrast to the histrionics of the stars on his show, Trip is controlled and smoothly mannered. In fact, the entire family seems ostensibly controlled, including Silda Grauman (Linda Lavin), Polly’s sister, who was taken in by Polly, due to too many alcoholic bouts. Silda sleeps a lot, but when she adds her searing wit to the fray, she seizes the stage, without even standing up. One family member is missing from this scene, Henry, who had been an anti-Vietnam home-grown bomber, who apparently took his own life decades ago to avoid arrest.
No amount of political banter, buoyed by a martini or beer, can erase the lines of sorrow on the faces of this five member family, but, at least early this December evening, the Christmas tree sparkles, the cobblestone fireplace crackles, the dusty beige furniture soothes, and talk of the restaurant menu entices good feelings all around. But, time passes, and the memoir attracts more than the expected attention, as family privacy is exposed, not a welcome scenario for these country club, charity involved, Republican parents, who know Nancy Reagan. The events leading up to Henry’s death do not merge with the politics of Polly and Lyman’s upper crust Wasp friends; Polly is actually a Jewish born wife of a blue-blood husband, who used to be a GOP Chairman and stage actor, just like Ronald Reagan. Polly had been a screenwriter. Now she lunches with the ladies for charity planning, and shops with the best of them. Polly and Lyman resent left-wing lunatics who back liberal causes that enable a dependent society. Polly and Lyman have made it, and they don’t want to give it away, unless there’s a black-tie gala attached.
Jon Robin Baitz’ Other Desert Cities is a play that you don’t want to end. This month has brought the worst non-stop New York weather, and tonight was pure ice and bitter cold. But, I would have sat at the Mitzi Newhouse four more hours watching this cast, even if the storm had doubled its strength. The audience was drawn into the Wyeth’s living room this fateful Christmas eve, and, as Kenneth Posner’s lighting dimmed with the dimming hope of gifts exchanged, conversation heated up. As it happens in good theatre, the most startling revelations occur in the final moments, and this lustrous new play was no exception. Stockard Channing was a study in layered refinement, a woman who plays her role with all its embellishments. She was radiant and animated. Stacy Keach transformed before our eyes from steel to stricken. Elizabeth Marvel kept her emotions uncluttered, with verbal fireworks or catatonic pouting. Thomas Sadoski was the keeper of the flame, literally, and he seemed to rise to the missing role of big brother.
The most nuanced, intriguing character was Linda Lavin’s Silda, who would walk to the kitchen, fetching a cold drink, or to her room for a nap, and, with a wave of a hand, the audience broke up. This was one of Ms. Lavin’s most hilarious roles, yet one with poignancy, too, as the revelations unfolded. John Lee Beatty’s living room was created like an unfinished Holiday card, all the décor, but no color. It truly set the scene. David Zinn’s costumes proclaimed the contrasts between mother and daughter, father and son, and the two sisters. In fact, Polly makes a biting comment about the discount label on Silda’s blouse, for instantaneous distancing from her own designer wardrobe. Fabric took on its own meaning, a metaphor for the frayed and damaged fabric of this contemporary American family. Kudos to Jon Robin Baitz.
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