Other Desert Cities at Goodman Theatre | Theater review

Parents and children clash over politics and the past in Jon Robin Baitz’s soapy family drama.
 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
1/9
Photograph: Liz LaurenOther Desert Cities at Goodman Theatre
 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
2/9
Photograph: Liz LaurenOther Desert Cities at Goodman Theatre
 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
3/9
Photograph: Liz LaurenChelcie Ross and Deanna Dunagan in Other Desert Cities at Goodman Theatre
 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
4/9
Photograph: Liz LaurenTracy Michelle Arnold and Chelcie Ross in Other Desert Cities at Goodman Theatre
 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
5/9
Photograph: Liz LaurenJohn Hoogenakker in Other Desert Cities at Goodman Theatre
 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
6/9
Photograph: Liz LaurenTracy Michelle Arnold in Other Desert Cities at Goodman Theatre
 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
7/9
Photograph: Liz LaurenDeanna Dunagan in Other Desert Cities at Goodman Theatre
 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
8/9
Photograph: Liz LaurenLinda Kimbrough in Other Desert Cities at Goodman Theatre
 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
9/9
Photograph: Liz LaurenOther Desert Cities at Goodman Theatre
By Kris Vire |
Advertising

Jon Robin Baitz’s 2011 work concerns the secrets and infighting of a wealthy, überprivileged white family. So as contemporary dramatic literature goes—or at least the sort that gets produced on Broadway, named a finalist for the Pulitzer and disseminated to the country’s major regional theaters—it’s not exactly a unicorn.

Still, if Baitz’s drama doesn’t break new ground, it’s juicy and well constructed. Polly and Lyman Wyeth (Deanna Dunagan and Chelcie Ross) are old-guard California Republicans: he a former screen actor who shifted into politics, she a screenwriter who became the perfect political wife. They’re in the mold of the Reagans, though not stand-ins (Ron and Nancy are frequently mentioned as close friends). The play takes place over Christmas 2004, as depressive, prodigal and liberal daughter Brooke (Tracy Michelle Arnold) arrives for a visit with the manuscript she’s just sold: a bombshell memoir about the death of her older brother that casts her parents in an unflattering light.

The recent-period setting, just after the re-election of George W. Bush and as the Iraq War was not yet looking like a quagmire, allows Baitz some too-easy hindsight quips. And all five characters onstage, including Brooke’s apolitical TV-producer younger brother (John Hoogenakker) and Polly’s dyed-in-the-wool-liberal, recovering-alcoholic sister (Linda Kimbrough), can occasionally sound like authorial hand puppets. Yet both the playwright and director Henry Wishcamper resist facile caricature. Led by Dunagan’s flinty, pragmatic Polly and Ross’s sonorous Lyman, Wishcamper’s top-notch cast sells even Baitz’s soapiest twists with aplomb.

Advertising