“Telling the truth is a very expensive hobby,” notes Silda Grauman (Robin Pearson Rose) late in the second act of Jon Robin Baitz’s “Other Desert Cities,”
now in its San Diego premiere at The Old Globe.
Silda, the garrulous sister of Polly Wyeth (Kandis Chappell), is a recovering alcoholic recently released from rehab and taken in by Polly and her husband Lyman (Robert Foxworth), against Polly’s better judgment.
Lyman and Polly, retired Hollywood types (Lyman was an actor; Polly and Silda screenwriters), have fled Tinseltown for expensive digs in that playground of the rich, Palm Springs.
It’s a pleasant and easy life of tennis, food, clever banter and right-wing fundraisers, though how the Wyeths can stand socializing with “that blue-haired Republican crowd” is a mystery to überliberal Silda.
The adult Wyeth kids are home for the Christmas holiday. Son Trip (Andy Bean) produces a TV reality show of the “Judge Judy” type, only his “judges” are Hollywood actors.
Older daughter Brooke (Dana Green), just arrived from Sag Harbor, is a divorced writer with a novel to her credit. Her second book is about to be released and she wants to talk to her family about it first.
She’s nervous, because while the Wyeths think the new book is another novel, it is actually a memoir, mostly about the elephant in the room that no one wants to mention: third child Henry, Brooke’s best friend and older brother who was implicated in a bombing incident and leapt to a drowning death.
That elephant has made it impossible for Brooke to make her parents understand what her psychological breakdown was all about. It has taken Brooke years to get over the depression, pills and hospitalization that followed Henry’s untimely and incomprehensible death.
“I want to talk about Henry until it makes sense,” she says.
Failing that, she has written about him – and nothing will ever be the same.
This piece is a bit of an odd bird – a taut dramatic piece with enough social satire to produce many laugh-out-loud funny lines. Director Richard Seer has assembled a top-notch cast, headed by four Globe favorites.
Chappell’s briskly efficient but verbally prickly Polly balances Foxworth’s peacemaker Lyman nicely. Neither can quite understand Brooke’s need to desert California for that other coast; both are horrified in different ways about the new book.
Green’s wounded Brooke makes us almost as uncomfortable as she is, her need for answers forcing the issue she knows could cause a permanent family rift.
Bean does well in his somewhat underwritten role as a younger version of Lyman, hoping they can all somehow get along, even at the cost of ignoring that elephant.
Rose has the most fun and gets lots of mileage out of her lines, easily the funniest of the bunch.
Alexander Dodge’s gorgeous set – a beautiful house interior with windows on the vast expanse of empty desert with mountains in the background – adds not just beauty but a psychological component. Charlotte Devaux contributes wonderful costumes to suit each character. York Kennedy’s lighting and Paul Peterson’s sound design complete the fine tech team.
Lyman puts it this way: “A lot of people get through the entirety of their lives, pretending; at a certain point, it’s not the worst thing to do.”
“Other Desert Cities” plays through June 2 at Old Globe Theatre’s Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.
Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.
Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.