Other Desert Cities: The Truth Will Set You Free(?)

Posted on Feb 26, 2013 at 4:38 p.m. by

By Quinton Skinner, Director of Communications

The notion that the truth will set one free is literally scriptural, profoundly and deeply ingrained in what we believe and how we live. Yet it becomes tricky when we realize that the truth itself is often slippery, complicated and hard to grasp with certainty--precisely the territory in which Jon Robin Baitz's Other Desert Cities maneuvers with such poignant and powerful impact.

When Brooke (Kelly McAndrew) returns home to her parents Polly (Sally Wingert) and Lyman (David Anthony Brinkley) for the holidays, it is with baggage both literal and figurative: she's come out of a hospitalization for depression, and her marriage has recently failed. She's acerbic and restless, but she also seems to have found the ticket to her life's brighter next chapter: the follow-up to her first novel, a manuscript recently picked up by a New York publisher.

Matters aren't going to be so easily settled, though: Brooke's new book is actually a memoir, one that dwells on a corner of her family's history that her famous parents would (in an understatement) prefer to leave unexamined. Brooke, for her part, claims her family's past as (literally) an open book because of how she feels it shaped her life; when her parents react with dismay, she places herself firmly in the white-hat camp of the truth-tellers.

There's at least more than one truth, though, a fact that Baitz's script, under Peter Rothstein's astute direction, makes abundantly clear. In the early going we have the scathing, politically incorrect matriarch Polly and the blustery but sweet Lyman: Hollywood Republicans and the political antithesis of Brooke and her brother Trip (Christian Conn), both safely described as "left of center."

So we might expect a Blue State-Red State, left-right standoff, one that could reinforce all the stereotypes of whichever side of the divide one might find oneself-indeed, one might even come to the play with the assumption that one side owns the lion's share of righteousness--or truth.

This would be profoundly missing the point. The chain of events that unspools in the desert home of the Wyeth clan on Christmas Eve subverts, upends and generally flips preconceptions in such a way that stereotypes lose their value. Even our understanding of something as fundamental as the limits of a parent's love, in this play, is subject to change as the evening progresses .

Other Desert Cities tells this family story with such humor, insight and humanity that our allegiances as audience members shift as the evening moves on--even the outsider and supposedly truth-telling aunt Silda (a scorching Michelle Barber) has painful compromises in her own story--and by the end, we're moved by how little we knew when we presumed to judge. This is why the show beats in an audience's heart long after the ride home, and the fall of night: because its depiction of truth, and the love of a family, mirrors the complicated journey through which each one of us passes.

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