“Other Desert Cities” is about a family with secrets, in crisis. They have money and position, but they are about to be exposed in a most painful manner.
It all takes place in an upscale ranch home among the right-wing elite in Palm Springs, California. It’s Christmas Eve, 2004. Mom, played by Muny favorite Dee Hoty, is a retired screenwriter turned society matron. Dad, played by Rep favorite Anderson Matthews, is an ex-Ambassador and former film & TV star with White House level connections. In the house for the holidays is their son, played by Alex Hanna, who is a successful producer of a reality TV show. An aunt who is a recovering alcoholic, played by Glynis Bell, is there for the holidays. And the catalyst for all the interactions, a daughter who is a writer with a history of depression and emotional dysfunction, has paid a visit after being “away” for about six years.
The returning daughter has just penned a book about her family that focuses on the life of her older brother who committed suicide. It is about to be released in a few months, so she brings advanced copies for the family to read. Mom and Dad are not anxious to find out what’s in the book, and after Mom looks it over she become downright militant against publishing it.
Dad takes a more conciliatory approach, trying to reason with his daughter, but then even he starts to become unraveled when his pleadings go nowhere.
Each one of the characters in “Other Desert Cities” is very clearly defined and portrayed. It’s one of this production’s shining successes, among many. The casting of this show is perfect. Glynis Bell as the aunt handles both the comic aspects of her role and the surprising revelations about her relationship with the daughter with a kind of charming mischievousness. Alex Hanna is solid as the only family member with a truly objective opinion on the entire issue.
“Other Desert Cities” proves the audience influence of deceptively great authorship. The angst of this production and the agonizing family dynamics build steadily through two acts until it all comes crashing down. There is a major revelation in Act II that brackets the true issues of this clan. “Other Desert Cities” is theater that is absorbing and brimming with elements of a type that they are germane to almost any family. The show paces itself and finally builds to an agonizing climax. You’ll find yourself asking what would your family have done under the same circumstances.