No Fun in Dysfunctional
Other Desert Cities strange tale similar in style to the great studies of dysfunctional families – it’s a modern version of O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey into Night, or Miller’s Death of a Salesman. The production, currently on stage at London’s Grand Theatre, is an interesting study in family dynamics.
It’s Christmas in the California desert. Polly and Lyman Wyeth are obviously pleased to have daughter Brooke and son Trip home for the holidays. Lyman is a former movie star turned politician/ambassador; Polly is former screen writer. These days the wealthy couple live the country club life, and look after Polly’s sister Silda who is just out of rehab for her drinking problem. Brooke has announcement: she has written a tell-all book about their dysfunctional family: in particular, she wants to tell the world about her older brother who was involved in a bombing and committed suicide. Mother does not want the book published, and father asks her to wait until after they are dead. For Brooke, coming back from a bout of clinical depression, this is an important story to tell. She has survived writer’s block and wants the world to know. Is she really just a writer with a need to write, or is she hanging out the dirty laundry for fame and fortune?
Not wanting to spoil your visit to the Grand, there is a twist in the end that I won’t divulge. But a long-kept secret is revealed, and finally the real truth is out.
Then there’s an added ending – yes, Brooke publishes the book, and we see her at a reading, with brother Trip looking on. From her selected paragraphs, we learn that she did hold the book until both parents were dead, and yet she doesn’t tell the complete truth. So now her motives for writing come back into question – we see her enjoying the fame and we assume she was always after the fortune.
Like other dysfunctional family stories, this production bogs down at times with too much yelling. While some theatre-goers appreciate the tense drama, I find the many loud accusations wearing.
Ingrid Blekys is excellent as Aunt Silda, just out of rehab and feeling lost as she is forced to take refuge at her sister’s home. Blekys demonstrates the voice of reason at times, and then when her character has to reveal her flaws, she suitably switches from defiance to pain. Greg Gale as brother Trip brings a very real characterization. Gale is genuine as Trip makes jokes rather than face the situation, and the audience is grateful for the comic relief. Gale shows his character’s distaste for being caught in the middle of the family feud. Robin Ward as father Lyman and Deborah Kipp as mother Polly both give heartfelt performances. Adrienne Gould as Brooke seems to vary widely in her presentation: perhaps it’s an accurate account of someone recovering from clinical depression.
This production didn’t draw me in as much as the playwright intended. I didn’t feel for the struggling family – the mother says some unforgiveable things that no mother should ever say, and the daughter seems like spoiled brat, so for that reason, I didn’t feel empathy for either of them.
So is this entertainment? Frankly, I don’t like to go out for an evening to hear people shouting at each other. Nevertheless, it is challenging and makes one think about one’s own relationships. If this show does nothing else for you, it is at least reassuring to know that by comparison your family is probably near-perfect.
Other Desert Cities continues at the Grand Theatre, London until March 8th. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com .
Other Desert Cities
By Jon Robin Baitz
Directed by Susan Ferley
Performed by Ingrid Blekys, Greg Gale, Adrienne Gould, Deborah Kipp, and Robin Ward
Grand Theatre, London
February 21 to March 8, 2014
Reviewed by Mary Alderson