Family Secrets Revealed in
'Other Desert Cities'

A wealthy Hollywood clan is forced to come to terms with
its past in new City Lights play
In 'Other Desert Cities,' the daughter of a wealthy Hollywood family plans to publish damaging memoir. Photo by Taylor Sanders

City Lights Theatre kicks off its 2016-17 season with the story of a dysfunctional family trying desperately to keep its skeletons in the closet. Other Desert Cities, opens in the living room of a Palm Springs mansion. The decor is modern—1950s international pavilion style—bright orange and muted green furniture set against a glass window backdrop, with a dark desert light wavering behind a large mountain range.

Enter the Wyeth family, returning home from a tennis match. One quickly sees they are a Hollywood family. Polly and her sister, Silda, made a name for themselves writing a TV show in the '60s. Polly's husband, Lymon, was the town's go-to character actor whenever a director was in need of a gumshoe; he is best remembered for his dramatic death scenes.

They have come together as a family for Christmas; but by 8am they are already are at each others' throats. Polly—a controlling, and viciously judgmental mother—particularly targets her rebellious and emotionally volatile daughter Brooke, who is a successful novelist. Silda is resting up at Polly and Lymon's house after a recent stint in rehab. Only the youngest son, a TV producer named Trip, maintains an air of tranquility.

Brooke has come home intent on revealing the soon-to-be published memoir she has just spent the last six years writing. It meticulously investigates the story of her elder brother, who disappeared long ago after bombing a U.S. Army facility—a fact the staunchly conservative family has worked hard to keep secret.

The story unfolds with sly ferocity. Laura Tothero plays Brooke as smart, stubborn and headstrong—but also somewhat naive. As her father, Jeff Kramer makes Lymon's deep denial palpable. The standout performance belongs to Mary Gibboney as Polly. She is brutally candid and controlling as only a mother can be.

Other Desert Cities is not without its faults. Philip Roth handled this material far better in American Pastorale. It would all be fine if the script didn't seem like a less imaginative exploration of family secrecy than a cobbled together collection of witty one-liners and monologues.

Luckily, with a symbolic but carefully tuned visual aesthetic and a lively and cerebral cast, City Lights Theater mostly overcomes the inconsistencies and garrulousness of Other Desert Cities and converts it into an acidly funny—and mostly successful—exploration of a dysfunctional American family.

Other Desert Cities
Thru Oct 23, 2pm & 8pm, $21-$37
City Lights Theater

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