By Diana SaengerPlaywright Jon Robin Baitz explores the power of love and how it sends one family spinning as they deal with conflicting politics and how to handle a family tragedy, in “Other Desert Cities.”
The moment patrons take their seats for the show in The Old Globe Theatre, there’s buzz about the set. Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge’s very posh living room in the Palm Springs home of Lyman (Robert Foxworth) and Polly Wyeth (Kandis Chapell) is stunning.
The art décor furniture and working fireplace are fantastic, but it’s the scene of the sky and mountain behind a huge glass doors that open to a beautiful pool that steal the focal point throughout the play.
It’s Christmas at the Wyeth home and everyone is in a festive mood. Trip (Andy Bean) and his sister Brooke (Dana Green) will join their parents and Aunt Silda (Robin Pearson Rose) for the holidays. The stern and stalwart Polly has set a tight schedule for Christmas Eve, but shortly after Dana and Trip arrive, there’s trouble.
Brooke reveals she’s written a soon-to-be- published memoir about the family and their tragedy over the loss of her other brother, who committed suicide. At the news, the room becomes a helium balloon that has just lost its gas.
Brooke’s parents are perplexed and refuse to read the book. Trip is finally coerced into reading it, but is angry with his sister and tries to get her to understand what this will do to their parents if it’s published.
There’s not a moment of Baitz’s dialogue that doesn’t command attention. One of Brooke’s lines skillfully explains the title of this play. This excellent cast becomes every one of these characters. Chapell creates Polly as a solid ice cube throughout most of the play and never wavers in her domineering demands. It’s a tour-de-force performance, especially when she finally starts to melt.
Foxworth is equally brilliant in portraying Lyman as just the opposite. He says little and hides behind his newspaper, but inside he’s slowly approaching the intensity of a steam room boiler.
Bean adds the right amount of a young man’s “come what may” attitude until he knows he has to tell his sister what she refuses to acknowledge. In any play with somber elements, a little comedy is welcomed and Rose delivers this often in her amusing take on Aunt Silda.
Green also gives a commanding performance as Dana, a young woman who has been through the mills with emotional breakdowns and bad feelings about her parents.
Richard Seer’s direction is superb and magical. He turns a traditional time of joy for most families into a big thaw and time of discovery that most might never want to experience, but many already have.
If you go■ What: ‘Other Desert Cities’
■ When: Matinees, evenings to June 2
■ Where: The Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
■ Tickets: From $29
■ Phone: (619) 234-5623
■ Website: theoldglobe.org