Other Desert Cities – Jon Robin Baitz

This summer I started reading plays and blogging about them. Then the fall happened and I stopped reading plays. And now a lot of things are still happening but reading plays is among them. So might as well not break form.

According to the front pages in the Grove Press edition I read, Other Desert Cities (ODC) seems to be Baitz’s 11th stage play. It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2012.

ODC  is a one room, small ensemble, family drama set at the luxury home of the Wyeth’s in Southern California on Christmas Eve. Ever since Tolstoy posited “…every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” (Anna Karenina, Page 1) authors have been supplying the specifics and this play is no exception.

A long-married Hollywood-gone-political power couple are delighted to have their adult children home for Christmas, and tolerating the wife’s sister, fresh from (her most recent stay in) rehab. Standard family tension, the weight of the past, reputation/public image, personal demons, the pressure on the holidays to be happy!, and those old saws actual and functional alcoholism are all here. Also there’s a ‘big reveal’ that would hinder the play for multiple viewings.

Baitz has one or two bon mots, but what I actually liked the most about the play was his mostly (brief), relaxed yet very clear stage directions.  This is well-trod ground I did not find the Wyeth’s unhappy family to be a fresh bloom. Easy enough to stage though.

5 Actors: 3F 2 M. Single set. Themes: Family, Holiday, Alcohol, Betrayal, Secrets


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