SANTA FE, N.M. — A mirage transfixes and tricks desert inhabitants. But when the heat dissipates, reality sears the eye into sharp, unrelenting focus.
“Other Desert Cities,” the award-winning drama by “Brothers and Sisters” creator Jon Robin Baitz,focuses on a young novelist’s return to her family’s Palm Springs home. Before the Christmas presents are opened, she announces her soon-to-be-published memoir will excavate deep family secrets. An open sore her parents would rather keep buried, that wound is the suicide of her brother, Henry.
In a new partnership between Albuquerque’s FUSION Theatre Company and the Lensic Performing Arts Center, “Other Desert Cities” will open in Santa Fe at 8 p.m. tonight and continue performances at 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturday. Founded in 2001, FUSION is the only professional theater company in New Mexico.
|If you go
WHAT: “Other Desert Cities”
WHO: The FUSION Theatre Company
WHEN: 8 p.m. tonight; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 W. San Francisco St.
COST: $20-$40; $10/students
CONTACT: 988-1234 or www.ticketssantafe.org
Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, among other awards, this play of both shadows and shimmer closed on Broadway in June. The original cast starred Stacy Keach and Stockard Channingas the parents of the young writer, Brooke, who was played first by Elizabeth Marvel, then Rachel Griffiths.Judith Light won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Silda, the mother’s sharp-tongued, alcoholic sister who knows too much.
“It’s a play about family and about a family living in today’s world,” Lazier said. “The conflict in the play is between the children and their parents. The parents are extremely wealthy, conservative in their politics. The father is a former Western movie star. The mother is a famous screenwriter.”
The father, Lyman Wyeth, served as an ambassador during the Reagan administration. The perfectly coiffed Polly leads a life of country clubs and cocktails, lunching with Betsy and Nancy and assuming a birthright to designer clothes. In a mask of ethnic self-immolation, she sees herself as more Texan than Jew.
The pair moved from Los Angeles to Palm Springs in luxurious exile.
The depressive Brooke, who hasn’t been home in six years, walks into their brittle, desert-hued home at Christmas in 2004 and announces her plans to strip off the family veil of secrecy. A virulent strain of high anxiety erupts over the holidays; they thought she was writing a novel, not a tell-all. Younger brother Trip refuses to play his sister’s game. But Brooke sees her parents’ carefully calibrated life as a betrayal to her own values as well as her country’s. She goes to war to spill their blood.
“The memoir is about a deep secret that the parents have been covering for over 30 years,” Lazier said. “The kids (Brooke and her brother Trip) know something about it, but they don’t know everything about it.”
As the play winds through a family rife with wit and war, it’s the ghost of the Wyeth’s absent son — a Weather Underground-style political revolutionary — who looms largest over the tinsel and tears.
The script addresses a cascade of current issues: conservative versus liberal politics, religion.
“And overall, the importance of forgiveness,” Lazier said.
FUSION was able to secure the rights to the play quickly after it closed. Its Sept. 6 debut at Albuquerque’s The Cell theater marked one of its first productions outside New York.
When Lazier saw it on Broadway in December 2011, he had no idea he would be directing it.
The director has already worked with four of the five actors, a cast that includes Paul Blott (a Los Angeles Shakespeare transplant), Joanne Camp (with a series of both Drama Desk and Tony Award nominations for her work both on and off Broadway), Jacqueline Reid (a founding FUSION member), FUSION co-founder Laurie Thomas and James Wagner (LA Theatre Works).
“The play requires really fine acting,” Lazier said. “It requires deep honesty on the part of the actors and a lot of commitment. They have to commit to the points of view of their characters.”
Although the subject matter is dark, Baitz’s wit shines throughout the emotional carnage.
“It is heavy, but the characters are so articulate and so bright they’re funny,” Lazier said. “It kind of catches you off guard.
“The mother and father are celebrities, so they don’t want this out. They haven’t been estranged, but (Brooke) refuses to live near them. They have no idea of the content of what she is writing.”
As Polly says, “Families get terrified by their weakest member.”