Other Desert Cities Presented by StageWorks Fresno

Sep 16, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Terrance V. Mc Arthur, Theatre

by Terrance Mc Arthur

If you want to drive to Palm Springs, you will see a highway sign for “Indio – Other Desert Cities.” If you want to see intense family drama with sly comedy, got to the Fresno Art Museum’s Bonner Auditorium for StageWorks Fresno’s production of Other Desert Cities.

The Jon Robin Baitz script joins the Wyeth family on Christmas Eve, 2004, as the surviving members of the semi-Jewish clan gather for the holiday. Retired actor-diplomat Lyman (Greg Ruud), his wife Polly (Kate McKnight), one-novel daughter Brooke (Amalie Larsen), the reality-TV-producer son Trip (Ryan Ruhl), and Polly’s sister Silda (Tessa Cavalletto) (who had collaborated in writing a series of films that were silly fluff) have gathered at their Palm Springs villa for celebration, companionship, and the airing of secrets. Brooke has overcome depression and writer’s block to pen a tell-all memoir of how horrible and Republican her parents are. She airs the Wyeth dirty laundry about the anti-war involvement, rejection, and suicide of the oldest son in the 70s, but she doesn’t know all the truth.



Larsen, as the instigator-daughter, projects a manic energy with a world-weary air. She’s acidic, self-absorbed, East-Coast-centric, and captivating. She’s insecure as she waits for her family’s reaction to her book, defiant as she defends her version of the truth, and lovable in her biting assessments of the ones she has to love. She moves from the Witch of this summer’s Into the Woods, who is weak in her powerful moments, to a character who is strongest in her weakest positions.

McKnight, in a role originated by Stockard Channing, has the lethal elegance of a Doberman in lace, self-medicating her losses and pain with each glass of alcohol, but it doesn’t make her soft and sloppy; it hones the edge of her anger. Catch McKnight when she next launches a Rogue Festival entry for a lesson in dramatic tension.theatre

Ruud has the air of a John Wayne or Ronald Reagan, dismissive of his acting and ambassadorial achievements, content to hide in his rock-walled mansion, happy to defer to a wife who has put Nancy Reagan in her place.theatre

Cavalletto exercises a crackling wit as the fresh-out-of-rehab Silda, a Tony-winning part for Judith Light. Desperate for a drink, she uses a slow-draw delivery to cut down any opponent. Ruhl is bemused by Trip’s success in pandering to America’s lowest tastes, supporting his big sister because he knows it will tick off their parents. He also gets to launch most of the language bombs in a play that is not for children.

I have seen Other Desert Cities in the past, and I applaud Joel Abels for his unflinching direction. The intimacy of the Bonner venue intensifies the claustrophobic closeness of the characters. It’s a production that irises down to an intense close that rivals its peak climax.

Other Desert Cities plays through September 20 at 2233 North 1st Street in Fresno. For tickets and more information, see www.stageworksfresno.com/on-stage.html. Keep an eye on KRL’s Local Theatre page to keep up with a lot of the theatre going on in the Valley.

Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Community Librarian for the WoW! (WithOut Walls) Division of the Fresno County Public Library, roaming the Valley to meet the public’s information needs.


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