Sherman Playhouse, Sherman: It never fails. Eventually, even the most guarded family secrets have a way of coming out and when they do, there’s no telling what the ramifications might be. Take Jon Robin Baitz’s play Other Desert Cities as an example. Brooke Wyeth, played by Reesa Nestor is a fierce rival. She has returned home to her upscale home in Palm Springs (a desert city if ever there was one) to join her family for Christmas. She is a talented writer who already has a novel to her credit, but this time she has written a memoir and her parents are worried. She has not told them anything about her book as she has with her other book in the past. That’s because this time, she plans to expose her parents’ role in her older brother’s suicide.
Brooke is as smart as she is determined and nothing is going to stop her from publishing her memoir. This even though her Republican conservative father Lyman, played by Steve Schroko, is a former actor and celebrity as well as a U.S. ambassador; she doesn’t care what it will do to his reputation or future career. Even her writer mother Polly who is the disciplinarian in the family cannot sway Brooke to change her publishing decision. After all, it has already been accepted by a major publishing house and “The New Yorker” is going to run an excerpt from it.
Brooke is a liberal as was her older brother. She cannot understand why he would leave a suicide note for his mother Polly, played by Kit Colbourn, rather than to her. “We were friends,” she insists. Her other brother Trip, played by John Squires, tries to keep a balance between his sister and his parents. He keeps reminding everyone that it is Christmas. His recovering alcoholic aunt, Silda, played by Eileen Epperson, instigates and encourages Brooke not to give in.
Brooke is certain that her radical liberal brother died because of his parents’ wealthy lifestyle, conservative views, and pro-war sentiments. He did turn to drugs and hung around with a group of radicals that set off a bomb in a recruiting center killing some people. Still, mom didn’t want all of the publicity brought up again and Brooke’s book is sure to do that. As anger once ignited continues to burn hotter and hotter, there is a sudden unexpected twist. However, I will not ruin this for my readers. I do encourage readers to see this outstanding production.
This is an ensemble effort and every member of this cast performs well. Director Katherine Almquist’s exceptionally astute direction along with her dream cast makes the rather wordy play move along at a good pace. She also brings a sense of the human to the characters that actors develop fully. The actors’ take on their characters’ descriptions perfectly. That means that Schroko as Lyman looks and acts like a handsome former movie star, but is also as sophisticated as a U.S. ambassador. Colbourn comes across as a smart and edgy Polly and Squires as a writer for television sitcoms adds humor to the production. Epperson wears the Aunt Silda mask well, concealing well her role in Brooke’s book. Nestor’s performance could have registered on the Richter scale. It shakes things up and nearly fractures the family.
Paul Tines’ set design definitely emphasizes the time and place with a large decorated Christmas tree and a elegant upscale living room. Accenting the role that art plays in this dramatic production as two gorgeous paintings flanking the living room. One of the questions asked repeatedly in the play is whether art takes precedence over life. Lisa Bonnelli’s costumes are character appropriate and Al Chiapetta’s lighting and Robin Frome’s sound design function well.
Overall, this is an entertaining production. It plays through July 28. Box office: 860-354-3622.
Joanne Greco Rochman is a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.