Getting to her parents' house, a posh Palm Springs place in sand tones of bland and blander, Brooke Wyeth has to navigate past a sign that directs to "other desert cities," but I don't think the cities out west are the ones to keep an eye on in Jon Robin Baitz's outstanding play, Other Desert Cities, now moved to Broadway's Booth Theater. Retaining Stockard Channing and Stacy Keach in the parental roles of Polly and Lyman Wyeth from the Lincoln Center production, the play now features Justin Kirk as their son Trip, Judith Light as Polly's sister and one-time writing partner Silda, and Rachel Griffiths as Brooke who has come from Sag Harbor for the holidays armed with her new, soon-to-be-published memoir. To borrow an idea from a known adage, if you see a lethal manuscript, the pages are going to fly.
A desert city perhaps on another continent might be a more apt reference because tucked into this family drama set in 2004 is a nod to a prior anarchy: a son who, in an act of anti-war that caused an innocent death, is no longer with them on Christmas eve, when this family plans to dine at the country club. Smart and funny, the question is asked, "Who has Christmas at a country club?" Jews.
Ethnicity and other tribal transformations make Other Desert Cities look like a satire on American reinvention, including the faux Pucci markdown worn by Silda as she holds up the lefty side of the family political equation. But more astutely Baitz's observations on the war in a desert city far away give this play its edge and weight. Even Sag Harbor where Baitz and director Joe Mantello, so brilliant as an actor in the recent revival of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, are neighbors provides another resonant image. The absent son Henry has allegedly jumped off a ferry in freezing water. Isn't that how Sag Harbor resident Spalding Gray committed suicide?
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.