By Punch Preview Correspondent Lindsey Clark
Every family has secrets to keep – even the seemingly perfect ones. But the facade of being the all-American, 2.5 children and a white picket fence kind of family will only last for as long as you can hold it up, and although you may be able to cover it for a while, you can’t hide the truth for long. Even the deepest buried secrets will exhume themselves eventually, and in Other Desert Cities at Arena Stage, one family’s secret threatens to unearth itself and undo them all.
It’s the holidays and Brooke Wyeth (Emily Donahoe) has returned to her family’s home in Palm Springs for the first time in six years. It’s evident from the light hearted but sarcasm-laced banter tossed around after a family tennis match that there is something much heavier going on below the surface, and the tension is almost palpable – especially between Brooke and her mother. Helen Hayes award winner Helen Carey plays Polly Wyeth, the family’s overbearing and critical matriarch who carries a disdain for weakness - and a secret that she has kept from her children for years. Fresh from a breakdown that saw her hospitilized and armed with a prescription for an anti-depressant and a manuscript for her newly written memoir, Brooke confronts her parents on Christmas Eve with the news that her soon-to-be-published book is about a very dark time in the family’s history – one that her parents have struggled for years to conceal, let alone talk about. The thought of the very public airing of the Wyeth’s very private family details nearly causes them to come unhinged - Polly and her husband, Lyman, (Tony Award nominee Larry Bryggman), both Reaganites and former Hollywood celebrity types, have a certain image and reputation to live up to, and the release of Brooke’s memoir would easily bring it all crashing down. Trip, (played by Scott Drummond) the often overlooked youngest child, does his best to keep the peace (and bring the laughs), but even he has a hard time accepting his big sister’s determination to put the family’s pain to print, and Polly’s sister, Silda (Martha Hackett) is the live-in recovering addict who seems to have no trouble with pitting her niece against the same woman who has put a roof over her head. Things reach a pinnacle when Polly and Lyman finally must confess to a secret that changes everything – and the Wyeths know they will never be the same again.
An interesting look behind the white picket fence facade, Other Desert Cities is a riveting family drama about having to cover up the truth in order to live an image. Kyle Donnelly returns to Arena (for the 22nd time!) to direct the DC area premiere of Pulitizer Prize nominee Jon Robin Baitz’s powerful story, and she does so with potent results - the cast delivers a sharp performance that resonates easily with anyone who has ever had skeletons of their own to hide (and don’t we all?). Staged on Arena’s Fichandler Stage, the play is done in the round, which seems to magnify the family’s concerns over having their truth exposed – the audience literally sits in the Wyeth’s living room with them to scrutinize every word and watch the family’s drama unfold. And unfold it does.
Tony Award nominated (including for Best Play) Other Desert Cities runs through May 26th at Arena Stage (1101 6th St, SW) and tickets start at $40. There are also savings programs available for discounted admission, information is available here. Escape from your own secrets by immersing yourself in the Wyeths’ – it’s a theatre experience that won’t disappoint.
As the Punch Premiere Correspondent, Lindsey covers all things music and theater related. When not writing for Pamela’s Punch, Lindsey has a seriously sweet gig as Executive Assistant at the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (www.pcah.gov). Aside from writing and seeing as much live music as possible, you can usually find her on a running trail, in front of a painting, staring at her dog, Lincoln, or hanging out with her big sister and fellow Punch Correspondent Niki Clark. Follow her on twitter @lindseykayclark. Contact Lindsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.