by Terrance Mc Arthur
All families have secrets. Rich and famous families have bigger secrets. In Other Desert Cities, a play by Jon Robin Baitz now performed at Stage 3 in Sonora, the Wyeth family has some doozies.
Dad Lyman (Michael Crich) is a Hollywood actor, known for his death scenes, who went into politics. Mom Polly (Sarah Grimes-Emmons), who once faced down Nancy Reagan, used to write screenplays with her sister Silda (Sally McClellan), who just got out of rehab. Youngest son Trip (Kyle Duval) produces reality-celebrity-trash courtroom television. Daughter Brooke (Traci Sprague) has worked her way out of years of depression by writing a tell-all memoir, focusing on the mysteriously complicated death of her older brother, Henry. The problem is, she doesn’t know all. She’s telling all the secrets she knows, but there are secrets she doesn’t know. It’s one of those intimate dramas where the author makes a lot of jokes about Republicans, and dialogue teeters along the edge of ludicrous, yet there is a strength and intensity that binds the audience to the characters.
There are many factors that make this family seem Reaganesque, but there are other qualities that evoke Carrie Fisher, Mommy Dearest, and even the Kardashians.
Sprague, hair flying with every thought, is relentlessly intense as she digs up the family skeletons. Active in (and behind) several theatre groups, she manages to escape the whininess this part can easily sink into before vanishing from sight.
Grimes-Emmons has worked with several theatres for 15 years, and she creates a materfamilias who demands control of every situation, and gets it. She stands tall, even in moments of defeat, in a role originated by Stockard Channing.
Crich does not aim for a Ronald Reagan portrayal, but there is a softness of the slowly aging matinee idol who hides out in the desert mansions of Palm Springs. He isn’t quite bumbling, just tired of life and Hollywood and politics. In life, he is a retired airline pilot, and that air of authority and confidence serves him well.
Duval is young, on the go, prowling around the rest of the family when he isn’t blissed out on the herbal assistance that makes everything manageable to him.
McClellan brings a little Pat Carroll and Kay Ballard to her part, loud and brassy in a family scored for oboes. The anger, bitterness, and jealousy shines through, really wanting and needing one more drink.
Music of the Beach Boys keeps the California feeling going with some bizarrely apropos song choices. The set by Ron Cotnam features tall, near-real, palm trees that can be yours if you win the theatre’s fundraising raffle. Other Desert Cities plays until May 19, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p m. Stage 3 is located at 208 South Green Street, Sonora, CA 95370. For further information, call (209) 536-1778; the website is www.stage3.org
Check out more theatre reviews up tonight in KRL and come back for more every Wednesday!