Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 2, 2014

Other Desert Cities

New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA
through August 9, 2014
by Konrad Rogowski

The unearthing and ghoulish autopsy of old family secrets, deceptions and plots creates the conflict and intrigue of New Century Theatre's production of Jon Robin Baitz's "Other Desert Cities."

The premise of the play is pulled straight from the often times brutal reality of today's "tell it all" autobiographies, recounted, most often, by the children of the rich and famous; and so it is with the Wyeth family. Author Brooke Wyeth (Cate Damon) arrives on Christmas Eve at the home of her movie star/high powered political hob-nobbing parents (Richard McElvain and Carol Lambert) with a present that promises to blow the lid off of a well-kept family secret. She presents them with her "tell all" book that suggests what happened to drive her younger brother to both acts of mass violence and suicide. The author, who has her own take on the family dynamics which caused this situation, give other family members -- brother Trip (Sam Gillam) and aunt Silda (Ellen W. Kaplan) -- the chance to read and to deal with what has occurred.

Each of the actors creates characters dealing with a family imploding into a series of hateful accusations and counter accusations. The interesting and different facet of the play here is that each of these characters makes points that ring true in their facts and their hypothesis, only to be countered by the others' equally valid points, leaving the audience wondering just who's version of the truth is the one to believe. To compound the issue, Rand Foester has successfully directed his cast to express flawed people who deal with others, equally flawed. By play's end, a truth does come out. The audience discovers why Brooke finally takes the road she talks about to other desert cities.

Foester keeps the action tight, and the arguments crisp and ringing of reality. Daniel D. Rist's set design creates the scene...and like the conflicts played out, it is panoramic in scope, and appears, at least to the uninitiated, picture perfect.