note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Richard Pacheco
“Other Desert Cities” currently at 2nd Story Theatre is a riveting story, eminently well acted and directed, full of growing power and presence. The Jon Robin Baitz play was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in drama. The story is simple enough, Brooke, the daughter returns home after a very successful novel with her second project, a memoir, basically a tell all book that is sure to infuriated her parents. It is the mixture of insufferable parents and their child in search of “the truth.” It is an inevitable collision of increasingly dire consequences. This Christmas Eve gathering in Palm Springs is doomed from the first.
Rachel Morris is Brooke, who struggles with the success of her first novel to come up with something to match its success. She ahs suffered from a variety of mental issues, ending up debilitated many times in her struggle back to her life and her writing. She is headstrong and determined and will not be deterred in her course. Morris delivers a solid performance, full of energy and determination.
Joanne Fayan is her alcoholic aunt Silda, who serves as her undercover source in her memoir, her Deep Throat so to speak. She struggles to get off the booze a battle she has been fighting unsuccessfully for many years. She has resentment for her sister who has helped, but lords it over her mercilessly. It is s fiery performance full of electric energy and zest.
Lording over the family is the ultra cool and collected mother, Polly, reminiscent of Nancy Reagan, a protégé of hers, a woman with a calculating nature that is relentless and fearless. Nothing unravels her and you don’t want her for an enemy, ever. Sharon Carpentier is cool and poised in the role, the epitome of aloof control in any circumstance.
Then there is Brooke’s younger brother, the cool and hip Trip, a television producer for a court reality show which is quite popular. He is a font of sarcasm and humor and the only family member to live home with his parents. Ara Bohigian is on the mark as the man who loves his sister and his parents despite their flaws, all of their flaws and struggles to maintain both in these close quarter conflicts.
Finally there is the husband and father Lyman a retired actor and ambassador under Regan who battles the conglomerated emotional mess of his family as best he can trying to balance his loyalties between the daughter he loves and his wife whom he also loves. Vince Petronio delivers a solid performance that is right on target as the easy going politician who keeps the secrets buried until he has to expose them in spite of himself.
Director Ed Shea keeps the pace moving and directs in the round which allows for minimal set, mostly furniture. He keeps the intensity mounting and the laughs coming with a firm sure hand.