TheatreWorks’ shining Desert Cities

Aug 30

Other Desert Cities 1
Brooke (Kate Turnbull, center) returns to Palm Springs to celebrate Christmas with her parents Lyman (James Sutorius, left) and Polly (Kandis Chappell, right) in TheatreWorks’ production of Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz. Photo by Tracy Martin

I sort of fell in love with Jon Robin Baitz more than 20 years when I saw his The Substance of Fire at the Magic Theatre. He was an astoundingly intelligent playwright crafting dramas that felt of another time and from a writer well beyond his years.

Baitz has continued to turn out compelling dramas over the decades, but it was his stint in Hollywood that seemed to really recharge his theatrical battery. After a not-so-great experience in the world of network television, Baitz wrote what might be his best play yet, Other Desert Cities, which receives its local premiere from TheatreWorks.

I reviewed the play for the Palo Alto Weekly, an excerpt of which follows.

From the play’s first moments, thanks largely to the incredible set, the audience is completely drawn into the Wyeth household drama, and once Baitz’s crackling dialogue begins, resistance is futile. This is a classically well-made play about the theater of family: how each member chooses and plays a role, some more forcefully than others. There are no gimmicks as the drama unfolds over a couple of fraught December days. Whether this is a family breaking apart or ultimately pulling together isn’t revealed until the last moments of the two-hour play.

Expertly directed by Richard Seer, this cast performs with such precision it’s hard to imagine anyone better in the roles. Chappell dominates the stage as the powerhouse Polly, a bright woman so devoid of compassion (yet not of love) for her children it’s almost shocking to hear some of the things that come out of her mouth. She’s brutal but she’s also funny, which makes her irresistible.

Read the full review here.

[bonus interview]
I interviewed playwright Jon Robin Baitz and Other Desert Cities leading lady Kandis Chappell for a story in the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the feature here.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Other Desert Cities continues through Sept. 15 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are $19-$73. Call 650-463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org.

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