Lincoln Center Theater
Under the Direction of Andre Bishop and Bernard Gersten
in association with Bob Boyett
Other Desert Cities
(Other Desert Cities On Broadway Website)
By Jon Robin Baitz
Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach, Judith Light,
Rachel Griffiths, Thomas Sadoski
222 West 45th Street
Directed by Joe Mantello
Sets: John Lee Beatty
Costumes: David Zinn
Lighting: Kenneth Posner
Sound: Jill BC DuBoff
Original Music: Justin Ellington
Production Stage Manager: James Fitzsimmons
Casting: Daniel Swee
Exec. Dir. Development & Planning: 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
November 6, 2011 Matinee
The quick revival of Robin Baitz’ Other Desert Cities, as it moved from the Mitzi Newhouse to the Booth on Broadway, was another mesmerizing visit to the chic, earthy California living room of the Wyeth family, during their 2004 Christmas reunion. Leading the clan in the unfolding festivities were Lyman (Stacy Keach) and Polly (Stockard Channing), expanding on their original Off-Broadway roles. Rachel Griffiths has replaced Elizabeth Marvel as Brooke Wyeth, Judith Light has replaced Linda Lavin as Silda Grauman, and Thomas Sadowski has returned as Trip Wyeth.
It’s still 2004 Christmas eve, and the Palm Springs living room of Lyman and Polly Wyeth sets the stage for Trip and Brooke to visit for the Holidays. Brooke is now strong, after suffering from a mental breakdown, and she has a freshly bound family memoir, waiting to be published. Trip directs a reality television show, and he’s the calming influence in this volatile clan, that loves to argue politics, clothing manufacturers, and where to have dinner. Yet, the family tries very hard to keep emotions outwardly controlled. Silda, Polly’s sister, has been housed by Polly, due to Silda’s alcoholic escapades. She sleeps a lot, but adds sarcasm and cynicism to the mix. The family member who is missing from this scene, Henry, had been an active protester against the Vietnam War, and, to escape blame for a violent anti-war explosion, that took a life, he apparently took his own life, decades ago.
The larger Broadway stage is tough to enter psychically, whereas the Newhouse stage had been so accessible. To make matters worse, Stockard Channing’s voice seemed drowned in the problematic sound system, although most actors’ voices were clear and resounding. However, the Jon Robin Baitz play is so powerful and compelling that I leaned in and wrapped myself in the dramatic momentum. There’s also visual power, with deep lines of sorrow on the faces of this five member family, even as the Christmas tree sparkles, the cobblestone fireplace crackles, and the dusty beige furniture soothes. Polly and Lyman are activists, themselves, but within their Republican Country Club and their Nancy Reagan-Hollywood circles. In contrast, the events leading up to Henry’s death do not merge with Polly and Lyman’s politics, nor do they merge with Polly’s background, as the Jewish born wife of a blue-blood husband, who used to be a GOP Chairman and stage actor. Outwardly, they resent left-wing, liberal causes that expand a dependent society. Polly and Lyman don’t want to give away their hard-earned money, unless it comes with a black-tie invitation.
Stockard Channing has remained radiant and animated, but seemed smaller on this different, more distant stage. Stacy Keach’s transformation from steel to stricken was also less gripping at the Booth, as his close-up bluster and neediness were telescopic now. Rachel Griffiths was more plausible than Elizabeth Marvel, more restrained, more vulnerable, more modest. Thomas Sadoski, in reaction to the more subdued emotionality of this large-scale staging, was even more of a calm presence, still rising to the role of the missing big brother. Judith Light, as Silda, did not play her character for laughs, as did Ms. Lavin. There were no sitcom-like gestures or audience-intended glances. Rather, Ms. Light, like Ms. Griffiths, was sadder, more sensitive, and no frills. John Lee Beatty’s living room was still created like an unfinished Holiday card, all the décor, but no color, even with furniture in new places. David Zinn’s costumes again blended into the contemporary, uncluttered scenery, with decided wealth contrasting with shabbiness, depending on whether the character lived there or visited.
I’ve often commented on a desire to see some Broadway shows in smaller theatres, to experience the dramatic dynamics viscerally, rather than remotely. Other Desert Cities is an ensemble play, a family in one setting, through two acts. The smaller Newhouse Theater brought the viewer into this mesmerizing play in ways that the Booth cannot. In some cases, smaller is better, and future Off-Broadway productions of this Jon Robin Baitz play would be more meaningful, when audiences can once again see the etched circles under the family’s eyes. Kudos to Jon Robin Baitz.