There are always two sides to a story. This is the moral underlying the family drama Other Desert Cities, a joint production from Black Swan State Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company. Currently playing at the State Theatre Centre (Perth), it is a verbose, thought provoking drama with an unexpected twist.
American playwright Jon Robin Baitz has written a tightly woven family drama full of American politics and the nuances of growing up in America in the 80s and beyond. Not being very knowledgeable about American politics, I found myself nonplussed in parts of the play, and probably didn't understand all the ins and outs. None the less, the production was a powerhouse of emotions for all.
It is Christmas time in Palm Springs, and the adult daughter (Brooke) of Polly and Lyman Wyeth has returned home after a 6 year absence. Also there are Brooke's brother Trip and their Aunt Silda. Brooke announces that her next book, about to be printed, is about an incident in the family's past, and what was already a tension fuelled holiday turns into a vicious, verbose Christmas Eve of truths and lies.
Christina Smith's set design is impressive in its realism, both in size and theme. A huge open living room spans the entire width of the stage and sits foward downstage. Behind the uncomfortable looking long couch is the oft used drinks bar, then glass windows looking out to a swimming pool and mountains in the distance. On one side the living rooms merges into hallways leading off stage. The whole area is dressed magnificently and is used effectively. My only complaint regarding the set is that the wide stage caused issues with sightlines.
Father and son Robert and Conrad Coleby play father and son Lyman and Trip. Trip is a “secondary character”, those people who move the plot along. Conrad played the happy go lucky Trip well, although I found his expressions to be a little bit bland.
Robert played Lyman exactly the way I had imagined a rich, retired, politically minded American would be – polished, caring, open. Or was he?
Aunt Silda was also a secondary character, almost a cartoon characterisation. Vivienne Garrett was too fake in her portrayal of Silda, the over the top recovering alcoholic with a grudge, and I found her grating.
Polly Wyeth is not a likeable character, but there was something noble about her strong beliefs and her dedication to her grown up children. Janet Andrewartha, making her Black Swan State Theatre Company debut, was spectacular as the tough as nails, opinionated matriarch.
Undoubtedly however, the star of the show was Rebecca Davis as Brooke, the fragile writer who comes home to get her family's blessing. Davis spends most of the play begging, pleading, fretting, or for the second half, in constant tears. She skilfully portrays a woman who is battling depression, and still wants her family's reassurance that what she is doing is right. It was hard not to be drawn into the family emotions as the second half of the production came to a crescendo.
Playwright Baitz was previously executive producer of the TV hit Brothers and Sisters, and Other Desert Cities has a similar feel to it. If you like intelligent family orientated dramas, this production is for you.
Black Swan State Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company present
Other Desert Cities
by Jon Robin Baitz
Director Kate Cherry
Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre | State Theatre Centre, 174 William St, Perth
Dates: 20 July – 4 August 2013
Tickets: $69.50 – $24.50
Bookings: ticketek.com.au | 1300 795 012