Traveling to “Other Desert Cities”

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Going home for the holidays is expected to be joyful reunion and family celebration, but as many of us know, it can be stressful and traumatic. This is especially true when the holiday reunion is a time where the family secrets are thrown out into the open.

The International City Theatre in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center is presenting a story of one of those stories of holiday revelations. caryn desai [sic]directs Jon Robin Baitz’s award winning play, Other Desert Cities.

The play’s title refers to a roadside sign on the eastbound I-10 that directs drivers to exit at Palm Springs, California, or head on to “other desert cities.”  This becomes the metaphoric “fork in the road” for the main character, who probably wishes that she had stayed on that freeway.

The occasion is a Christmas family gathering at the Palm Springs home of Polly and Lyman Wyeth (Nicholas Hormann and Suzanne Ford) in December of 2004. Longtime GOP gadflies, they are now retired, but remain active on the Republican fundraiser circuit.

Their daughter Brooke (played by Ann Noble), a once promising novelist, returns home after a six-year absence to celebrate Christmas with parents Lyman and Polly, brother Trip (Blake Anthony Edwards).

But when Brooke announces that she is about to publish a memoir focusing on an explosive chapter in the family’s history, the holiday reunion is thrown into turmoil. Brooke’s parents, Lyman and Polly are the seemingly-perfect upper middle class couple, replete with wealth, political influence and A-list connections, “living the dream” in Palm Springs.

Polly’s sister, Aunt Silda (Eileen T’Kaye), by contrast, is an outspoken liberal just out of rehab. The audience learns that at one time, Silda and Polly co-wrote a TV series.  Polly puts up a Christmas tree and jokes about it. The audience learns that Polly and Silda are Jews from Texas. “You’re a Jew!” Silda screams at her sister.

American politics is examined through the microcosm of this family.None of them come out unblemished as the family secrets are peeled away. Family members react with anger and despair as carefully constructed fictions are whittled away. Old family wounds are opened, childhood memories are tested and the Wyeth clan learns that some secrets cannot stay buried forever.

This is a story that many LGBTQ people, grappling with family secrets and fearful of family rejection, can relate to. The process of tearing away at those fictions that families cling to, is expressed with compassion for all of them.

Other Desert Cities premiered at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center Theater before transferring to Broadway in 2011, and has since been performed at regional theaters around the country. It was the winner of the Drama League Award for Distinguished Play, was named Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play by the Outer Critics Circle, received five Tony nominations including Best Play and was a 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Director caryn desai is the producing artistic director for International City Theatre. International City Theatre is Long Beach’s Resident Professional Theater at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center and the recipient of the Margaret Harford Award from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle for “Sustained Excellence in Theater.”

Other Desert Cities runs through June 29, 2014. International City Theatre is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center in Long Beach, CA 90802. For reservations and information, call the ICT Box Office at 562-436-4610 or InternationalCityTheatre.

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About Author

Denise Penn

Denise Penn is a Southern California-based journalist who has covered issues for the LGBT and HIV-affected community for nearly two decades. While an investigative reporter for the Blade Newsmagazine, her coverage of hate crimes became part of Congressional records. She served as News Editor for the Lesbian News and has contributed to In Los Angeles Magazine, EDGE, and many others. She is also a clinical social worker and brings that perspective to her articles. She produced and hosted an award-winning community television program in Long Beach, California for 12 years.

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