Thursday, January 19, 2012

Other Desert Cities (revisited) ***

(Click on the title to read the entire review.)
When I saw this play at the Mitzi Newhouse a year ago, I wrote the following review:
Jon Robin Baitz's new play, now in previews at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, brims with talent. With five worthy actors, a noted director (Joe Mantello), a wonderful set by John Lee Beatty and an interesting premise, it should have made for a stimulating evening. Alas, it didn't. The plot revolves around whether East Coast lefty writer-daughter Brooke Wyeth (Elizabeth Marvel) should publish her memoir about a family tragedy that happened 25 years previously, no matter what pain it causes her Republican parents Polly & Lyman Wyeth (Stockard Channing & Stacy Keach) who are living in Palm Springs splendor in self-exile from Hollywood. The underutilized Linda Lavin plays Polly's alcoholic sister who is using her niece to work out her own feelings against her sister. Thomas Sadoski plays Brooke's younger brother, producer of a "Judge Judy"-type tv show. They all have at each other for an act and a half, until we learn that things are not quite as they seem. A final scene set five years later detracts rather than adds to the plot. The dialog is mostly lackuster, the plot has gaping holes and any claims to a larger significance are unearned. The shock of the evening for me was Channing, whom I have always enjoyed in the past. Her face lacked expression and her delivery lacked conviction. I should add that most of the people around me responded enthusiastically to the play. I wish I could have shared their enthusiasm.
Seeing the Broadway production now, my reaction was quite different. Of the original cast, only Channing and Keach remain. I am happy to report that Channing's face has regained most of its expressiveness and her delivery most assuredly does not lack conviction. Keach's big scene in the second act remains one of the play's best moments. Rachel Griffiths as Brooke is less shrill than Marvel. Justin Kirk inhabits the role of the younger brother Trip more fully than Sadoski.  Judith Light, as Polly's sister Silda, seems to be channeling Linda Lavin, so there is no significant impact in that particular cast change. I am surprised that I had found the dialog lackluster, because this time out I thought it was both extremely funny and, at times, quite moving. The play has grown deeper, so that wide acclaim it has received is more understandable. I still think that the plot has a few problems, especially the final scene. Nevertheless, I am very glad I gave it a second chance.

No comments: