‘Other Desert Cities’ brings relevant message to our desert city

‘Other Desert Cities’ brings relevant message to our desert cityBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

“I may be a ‘true believer’ but at least I’m not a hypocrite. You moralize, whine and moan, but when push came to shove, you weren’t there...”

So speaks Polly, the Wyeth family matriarch from “Other Desert Cities,” a 2012 Pulitzer finalist for Drama by Jon Robin Baitz. Community Light Opera and Theater’s presentation of the play opened Friday, Nov. 3 at CLOTA Center Stage, and continues through Nov. 18.

For those who don’t know, CLOTA’s theater provides a very intimate setting – which perfectly suits the show’s one set and five actors. The entirety of the play (with the exception of a brief epilogue) takes place in the Wyeth family’s living room where you watch emotions roil under the surface as the family revisits their painful, hidden past.

The cold open has the family entering their home having just finished playing tennis together. It’s Christmas Eve in the mid-2000s and Brooke (Lena Pokol), a Gen X liberal living in New York, is visiting her brother Trip (Gabriel Gutierrez) and their conservative parents, Polly (Loralynn Chrostowski) and Lyman (Leonas Firme), at their Palm Springs home. It’s 8 a.m., so naturally they fix themselves something to drink and proceed to argue about politics.

The Wyeth parents are a wealthy hollywood-gone-politics power couple, modeled not-so-subtly after Ronnie and Nancy Reagan. They live with, and barely tolerate, Polly’s sister Silda (Elan McDonald-Archer), a former hippy who has since “dropped out” and spends her days chasing her regiment of prescription meds with vodka.

Six years after publishing her first novel, Brooke has brought her latest manuscript to her parents home, where she dreads her parents’ reaction. She plans to come clean about the dark past that her family refuses to acknowledge: the suicide of Henry, her beloved older brother.

As a whole, the cast did a tremendous job slipping into their rolls to the point where at times I felt like the family was spilling their family drama while I was sitting, forgotten, on one of their sofas. In a good way, of course. But newcomer Chrostowski, who effortlessly played both Polly’s aloof indifference and terrifying harshness, stood out among the cast.

In addition to the cast, Assistant Director Ivy Erickson’s beautiful paintings helped evoke the desert setting.

Admittedly, I was not thrilled about the show’s first half-hour. While it has become fairly common in theater, the script’s frequent swearing took some getting used to. I guess I’m just still not used to it in our sleepy little town. And you have to trudge through some tired, heavy-handed digs at the Bush administration.

But as the family works through the turmoil of its mysterious, painful past, what emerges is a message that far transcends political parties. The parents loyally cling to a party that they refuse to believe is changing. The children cling to ideals while they are woefully ignorant of the past. And Aunt Silda blames the “squares” for ruining the world, while doing nothing to help.

Everyone has their flaws and everyone has different perspectives that affect the way they view the world. The Wyeths spend so much time assuming that each others’ motives are based on their political preferences, that they forget everything else. They forget that they all want to feel heard and understood and loved. They forget that, as family, they deserve the benefit of the doubt. Because sometimes family is all that you have.

Performances are Nov. 10, 11, 17 and 18, 7:30 p.m. at CLOTA Center Stage, 1425 N. Inyo St., with a 2 p.m. Matinee on Sunday, Nov. 12. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for students, military and seniors and $10 for CLOTA members and are available at Red Rock Books and at the door.

Story First Published: 2017-11-08