I’m so thrilled that 2011 can be marked as the year that two very promising American playwrights crossed over into visibly being really great writers. David Lindsay-Abaire did it on Broadway in the spring with Good People, and Jon Robin Baitz did it Off-Broadway with Other Desert Cities. I rarely miss anything on Broadway, so I knew about Lindsay-Abaire’s triumph first-hand. I heard Baitz’s triumph trumpeted frequently by people whose taste I trusted, so I was very much looking forward to the inevitable Broadway transfer of Other Desert Cities. I was not disappointed.
In Other Desert Cities, writer Brooke Wyeth (Rachel Griffiths) reunites with her parents (Stockard Channing and Stacy Keach), former members of Ronnie and Nancy Reagan’s inner circle, her brother (Thomas Sadoski) and her aunt (Judith Light), in Palm Springs, to celebrate Christmas 2004. Six years after writing a hit novel, Brooke announces that she is about to publish a memoir focusing on an explosive chapter in the family’s history, throwing the holiday reunion into turmoil, as the Wyeth family struggles to come to terms with their past.
This is first-rate, intelligent family drama, as powerful in its own way as Tracy Letts’s breakthrough August: Osage County – and more tightly written. Political hot-button issues of all sorts are raised, their personal dimensions smartly explored – the comparisons and contrasts between the personal and the political are thoroughly worked over – and no easy answers are offered (though Baitz resolves the family stories in ways that feel earned, honest, and satisfying).
Rachel Griffiths is terrific as Brooke, and Stockard Channing is frighteningly accurate as she charts the shifting perspectives of Brooke’s mother Polly, a Texas Republican who also happens to be a Jewish ex-screenwriter, full of all kinds of surprises. The most compellingly writen character of all, though, is Polly’s fuck-up liberal sister Silda, which Judith Light plays to perfection. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the first serious contender for 2012’s Best Play Tony.
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