Review: Family crisis blazes in ‘Other Desert Cities’ at International City


This review has been corrected. See below for details.

For those who have not yet seen Jon Robin Baitz’s Pulitzer-nominated “Other Desert Cities,” the first of that prolific playwright’s works to reach Broadway, the play’s current production at the International City Theatre is a prime opportunity to redress that shortfall.

Set in Palm Springs in 2004, Baitz’s drama features some of the most full-blooded and morally complex characters this side of Arthur Miller. Well-heeled Lyman Wyeth (Nicholas Hormann) is a former actor turned politician once at the tiptop of the GOP hierarchy. Wife Polly (Suzanne Ford) is an iron-willed socialite who hobnobs with the likes of Nancy Reagan and Betsy Bloomingdale. The raging Iraq war has bitterly divided the country -- and further complicated the troubled relationship between Polly and her daughter, Brooke (Ann Noble), a struggling author fighting her way back from a suicidal depression. The couple’s TV producer son, Trip (Blake Anthony Edwards), tries to pour oil on his family’s troubled waters, while Polly’s alcoholic sister, Silda (Eileen T’Kaye), thrills in setting those oily waters ablaze.


All of Baitz’s characters are brilliantly delineated, but it’s the memory of Polly and Lyman’s dead son -- a drug-addled radical involved in the fatal bombing of a military recruitment center -- that looms largest over this fractious gathering. When liberal Brooke reveals that she has written a tell-all memoir that further demonizes her disgraced parents, this ideologically divided tribe gets a crash course in the politics of betrayal, as long-held family secrets are shatteringly revealed.

From sophisticated badinage to ravaging revelation, director caryn desai subtly builds the piece’s momentum, keeping her cast firmly moored in emotional naturalism, while JR Bruce’s move-in ready set further contributes to the vaguely voyeuristic sensation that we are flies on the wall at this unfolding Christmas cataclysm. Of the superb cast, Hormann is particularly affecting as the kindly patriarch whose valiant air of bonhomie covers deep and abiding suffering.

“Other Desert Cities,” International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 29. $42-$47. (562) 436-4610. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

For the record, June 17 11:30: A previous version of this review incorrectly attributed the accompanying photograph to Suzanne Mapes/Fountain Theater. The correct credit is Suzanne Mapes/International City Theatre.