‘Other Desert Cities’ unfolds with family secrets at Chatham Playhouse

By LIZ KEILL

CHATHAM, NJ – “Other Desert Cities,” the stirring drama by Jon Robin Baitz, revolves around a family’s loyalties and deceptions in a tony Palm Springs household. “Other Desert Cities” refers to the signs along the exit ramps on the California freeway.

Sign Up for E-News

The twists and turns center on daughter Brooke (Adriana Spizuoco), a writer who is visiting her parents after moving east to Long Island.  Her mother, Polly (Lynn Langone) and father, Lyman Wyeth, (David Romankov) try to repair an increasingly distant relationship with their daughter. Their younger son Trip (Scott Tyler) has also joined the family for Christmas. Staying withthe parents is Polly’s sister, Silda (Terri Sturtevant), who has her own relationship with Brooke.

As the play progresses, we learn that Brooke has written a memoir, about her brother Henry, who committed suicide several years earlier. No one in the family talks about him and there are hardly any pictures of him to be seen.  Spizuoco captures the angst of a young woman, learning about herself and, ultimately, confronting her parents in what she sees as callous indifference to her lost brother.

At times, the play is reminiscent of Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance,” with a drunken sister-in-law and a daughter who changes the family dynamic. In this play, Silda has given up drinking, but lives on Social Security, so she is dependent on Polly and Lyman. Sturtevant once again delivers a nuanced, often hilarious performance as the aunt, frequently clashing with her sister. Langone is tough and self-assured, often at odds with both her sister and daughter. Tyler is spot-on as her younger brother, shedding light on a truth that Brooke does not want to see. Romankov as her father is the hapless foil for the bickering that surrounds him, while trying to retain a certain dignity and distance, despite the emotional chaos. There are shades of other issues, with Trip as a successful television producer, Lyman once as an ambassador to Mexico and Polly with her Country Club friends. All of this comes crashing down around Brooke, who has had her own bouts of depression in the past.

Jonathan Wierzbicki has directed the talented class with assurance and the emotions become heated, especially in Act II. Brooke has tried to get her parents to read a draft of her book, which is about to be published. But that is when we learn more about the loss of her brother, Henry, and what happened in his life,

Roy Pancirov’s set design is a handsome living room, with stunning stone fireplace, a two-level step down to the stylish living room. Costumes by Beverly Wand and lighting by Richard Hennessy add to the slick, seamless atmosphere.

“Other Desert Cities” continues through Oct. 20 at The Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue in Chatham. For tickets, call 973-635-7363 or visit chathamplayers.org.