Review: Other Desert Cities at Pgh Public Theater

This wasn’t my favorite play of the season, but I believe that Polly Wyeth – mother, Republican, wife – may be among my favorite characters of the season.

Other Desert Cities is a riff on a sign along desert highways – the Wyeth elders, Polly and husband Lyman are living the retirement dream in Palm Springs. Their two living adult children visit for the holidays. Youngest child Trip produces reality tv and struggles to keep everyone happy. Middle daughter Brooke is recovering from a serious bout of depression. Both children profess to embrace a different lifestyle than their parents – former Hollywood icons turned political family. Polly’s sister Silda is also at the house, recently released from another round of rehab.

Polly (l), Silpa (c) Brooke (r)
Polly (l), Silpa (c) Brooke (r)

Brooke announces she’s written a memoir and all hell breaks loose. The ensuing big reveal isn’t necessarily hard to see coming, but it plays out in a powerful, gut wrenching scene which is where Polly shines.

The irony of this play for me personally is that I really liked Polly and Lyman who embody a Ronald Reagan Republican sensibility that goes against my own beliefs. But I found myself disliking liberal Brooke who repeatedly glossed over the fact that her parents came to her when she was suicidal and took care of her as if that was simply a minor parental obligation. It is what parents should do – come to you, help you access the best services you can and help you heal – but Brooke doesn’t see past her adolescent views. She doesn’t see the big reveal coming at all because its not anything she would perceive as even possible.

Trip is a nice character, very much the youngest son who barely remembers his deceased older brother and very much the peacemaker. The actor wasn’t as comfortable with the dialogue as the others, but he hit the ball out of the park a few times – my personal favorite was when he told Brooke she was a privileged rich white liberal even if she denied it. It isn’t a lifestyle choice, it is a fact.

Polly is a gem and Helena Ruoti does a terrific job making us cheer for Nancy Reagan. She’s fierce, determined and calculating, but she’s also one hell of a parent who loves her children. She utterly transforms from a caricature into the most multidimensional character on stage. I very much underestimated her. Kudos to Ruoti.

The set was a sort of kitschy throwback new money housing development setting.  There were too many scenes where the characters backs were turned to the audience (we were center stage) especially Brooke and I was unable to hear some of her dialogue. But it felt genuine and that statement will only make sense after you see the show.

Overall, it was a thought provoking play with a satisfying conclusion that generates enough “what ifs” to keep me coming back next year.

Other Desert Cities runs through June 30, 2013 at the O’Reilly Theater, produced by Pittsburgh Public Theater.

This wraps up the Pgh Public Theater’s season. We’ve enoyed both performances we attended and look forward to next year. I encourage you to support the performing arts and to explore something new. Now is the perfect time as the Three Rivers Arts Festival presents all sorts of interesting opportunities.


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