After a successful run Off Broadway at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater earlier this year (see our original review here), Jon Robin Baitz’s explosive domestic drama Other Desert Cities opens on Broadway with all of its mesmerizing brittleness intact. Stockard Channing and Stacy Keach return as Polly and Lyman Wyeth, a well-heeled couple now sunsetting in Palm Springs after a golden career in Hollywood and Republican politics. She was a screenwriter-turned-socialite, he was an actor-turned-wine spokesman-turned-ambassador. Together, they form an almost impregnable front representing power, however fading, and privilege.
But there are chinks in the carefully Botoxed armor, and who better to expose them than their wayward daughter, Brooke (Rachel Griffiths), who arrives in Palm Springs for the holidays along with her reality-TV-show-producing younger brother, Trip (a spot-on Thomas Sadowski)? Brooke, a failed novelist who exiled herself to the East Coast and has a history of depression, shows up with the manuscript of her new book — not a novel, but a tell-all memoir of the Wyeth family history that threatens to upset Polly and Lyman’s meticulously manicured lives by touching on the tragic death of Brooke’s older brother.
It would be a shame to spoil the narrative surprises of Baitz’s witty and well-constructed script, which is as sleek and tasteful as John Lee Beatty’s ’60s-modern set. And the players couldn’t be more perfect. Rachel Griffiths, who just wrapped five seasons on the Baitz-created ABC drama Brothers and Sisters, has a firm handle on Brooke’s many contradictions and manages to soften the character’s potentially off-putting aggressiveness with an underlying vulnerability. (The Australian-born actress is a decided improvement upon Elizabeth Marvel, who created the role Off Broadway.) And as Polly’s recovering-alcoholic sister, Silda, Judith Light steps in for Linda Lavin — and makes a strong impression, from the exposed gray roots in her hair to the brassiness that masks her many insecurities.
The Wyeths emerge as an all-American family, acting out against each other out of both love and self-interest. And the show’s second-act fireworks seem like a fittingly all-American way to celebrate the arrival of a major new play. A
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)