When I first read a brief overview of Other Desert Cities, written by the award-winning Jon Robin Baitz, I was unsure whether its focus on such a unique family situation would be engaging enough to grip a London audience. The story revolves around Brooke Wyeth, aspiring New York novelist whose best friend – her brother – committed suicide without leaving her a note. She comes back to her family home in the West to inform her parents of her plan to publish a memoir telling all the details of the traumatising Wyeth past. What worked really well to my surprise was the extent to which I could relate to the dilemma’s faced by Brooke and her family.
Baitz has cleverly situated the plot during the festive season of Christmas where typically families are known to come together, be thankful for one another and share nothing but joy. The drama throughout the piece combined with the odd moment of wit provided a good balance of actual living-room drama. For example, whilst the addition of Clare Higgins as the alcoholic aunt is awkward at times it’s an addition that concludes as necessary to provide light relief not only for the audience but for the characters on stage. In presenting the fragile Wyeth family, Baitz explores multiple issues such as East USA vs West USA, suicide, self-harm, generation gap, and the damaging nature of social class.
Theatre in the round is an art we rarely see in London and was part of the reason I felt so involved in the action. I would have enjoyed more detail in the stage props; something to suggest demographic influence in the family’s lifestyle. The Old Vic may have had a few too many seats to create the intended effect absolutely but strong performances from the cast more than make up for it. I was highly impressed with the power in Sinead Cusack’s unforgiving performance as the decision-making mother of the household. The way Cusack delivered raw anger through her strong posture, tone and expressions was a joy to behold from an actors’ perspective.
Other Desert Cities is an interesting affair that may be best received by those who have a vested interest in USA politics, and it may take others a while to understand the deeper references to American culture, but Lindsay Posner has directed a powerful enough production to warrant a visit. Recommended!
Review by Sahil Jon
Other Desert Cities
This fierce, funny drama explores family politics, love, loss and redemption.
Brooke Wyeth returns to the family home in Palm Springs for the first time in six years with some incendiary news for her Republican parents Polly and Lyman, her brother Trip and her recovering alcoholic aunt Silda.
She’s about to publish a memoir about her family, exposing a pivotal moment in their painful and explosive past. Her actions threaten to push already fractured family relations to a point beyond repair.
Old Vic Theatre
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesday and Saturday 2.30pm
Booking Until: 24th May 2014
Monday 24th March 2014