WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT PEACE, LOVE, AND MERCIFUL STORIES?
I went to the Colorado premiere of Jon Robin Baitz's play Other Desert Cities at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Friday night with some trepidation. Not about the production- I have seen virtually every show they have done for the past two seasons, and each show- to a one- has been excellent. No, the reason I felt a little anxious was because one of my companions that night happens to be a staunch Republican, and this show deals with a conservatives and liberals- and I wrongly assumed it would be slanted towards the liberal side of things. Of course, my fears were unfounded, the play outstanding, and we all had a fantastic time.
Other Desert Cities is not a play about political ideas, but about human beings dealing with each other, their past, and how it affects the present. It is a kind, funny, sad, thrilling night of theatre, and if you have any brains, heart and/or soul, you will get your ass down to the Springs and catch this gem of a show.
The plays takes place at the plush Palm Springs home of Lyman and Polly Wyeth, a conservative couple in their waning years who once were among the Illuminati of the GOP. At the top of the play, it's Christmas Eve, and daughter Brooke, a fairly neurotic and seriously depressed writer, has come home- ostensibly for the holiday, but in actuality to show mom and dad the manuscript for her latest book- a tell all memoir. The memoir is about a family tragedy that tore the family apart in the 1970's, which most would like to recover from, but sadly, Brooke can not. Also present at this gathering are Brooke's younger brother Trip, a reality show producer, and liberal Aunt Silda- who is a semi-recovering alcoholic and the antithesis of her sister Polly in every way. As the play progresses, layers are peeled away, and nobody is as easily categorized as we think. As is painfully often the case, there are no good guys and bad guys, just people struggling to understand each other and find some solace in a rather cruel world.
The play is both laugh-out-loud funny and quietly-wipe-away-a-tear sad, and director Scott RC Levy moves it along at a break neck pace. Levy creates a family we all can relate to- slightly crazy, loving, infuriating, and scary. The cast is uniformly excellent. Daniel Noel, as patriarch Lyman, is a wonder to behold. He has this fantastic presence. His performance is subtle, moving, and powerful. He's one of those actors who can with the slightest look or move tell you everything you need to know about a character. Leah Chandler-Mills is fantastic as matriarch Polly, who hilariously and tragically tries desperately to keep up appearances of normalcy despite all evidence to the contrary. Sammy Gleason plays younger son Trip- a sort of serio-comic modern version of Happy from Death of a Salesman. Gleason is a dynamic performer, and can turn on a dime from comedy to tragedy. Kate Berry, as Brooke, is excellent, giving Brooke pathos, along with a bit of righteous indignation that is both understandable, but also infuriating. Her journey is the spine of the show, and she makes is exhilarating. Stealing the show with ease is Birgitta De Pree as Silda. De Pree owns the stage, prancing around like a deranged rock star who has escaped rehab. Silda has a lot of sharp dialogue, and De Pree delivers is perfectly. She does not sugar coat her character, but rather gives us a fully realized mess of a woman who you alternately want to hug, throttle, and then hug again. The design is outstanding- set designer Christopher L. Sheley has created a home the looks like it was literally pulled out of it's foundations and brought to the stage. It captures perfectly that pseudo Frank Llyod Wright look so common to the affluent areas of California- my home state. Lights by Holly Anne Rawls perfectly capture the desert sky, especially the sunsets. And the costumes by Janson Fangio were perfect, enhancing each character with a look to match their personalities.
So let me say this one more time: If you are anywhere near Colorado Springs, get your ass down to the Fine Arts Center and see this show.