Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) Other Desert Cities

Benjamin Elliott, Gwyneth Walsh (photo by David Cooper)

A family drama of secrets, divulgence, and more secrets
The Arts Club opens the season with a polished and compelling production
by Chris Lane

Other Desert Cities tells the story of what’s at risk when you try to tell your own story to the world – because your own story isn’t just about you, is it.

The Wyeth family is gathered together for Christmas at their lavish Palm Springs home, as for the first time in six years their 30-something neurotic daughter Brooke has returned to California from her new East Coast life. She’s there because she has a bombshell to tell her family: her new novel isn’t actually a novel, but a memoir about the family’s darkest hour.

Brooke wants to share the story of how her parents’ hard-right ideology was so fiercely at odds with that of their eldest child they abandoned him in a time of need; she wants to expose their part in the family’s sordid past. But she’s challenged by her parents and brother, who question if telling this story is truly worth alienating her family. And is her book a fair depiction of her family’s tale, or is there more to it?

The play is filled with twists and turns as the story of the Wyeth family unravels, and the motivations and faults of all five characters are revealed and reviled. They might appear as recognizable archetypes at the outset, but they all have multiple layers underneath that are gradually exposed. The power dynamics are very interesting, as they all have their own ways of exerting power, overtly or subtly.

Other Desert Cities is a captivating drama that discusses politics in and out of the home, and how to navigate the conflicting responsibilities to family, to the public and to literature – not to mention earning a paycheque.

All five cast members deliver very strong performances and do justice to the complex characters who each have their defining monologues. No actor outshines the rest, as it is very much an ensemble, and a talented and cohesive one at that. Anna Galvin plays the central character of Brooke as wonderfully flawed but relatable. Gabrielle Rose is perfectly suited to Brooke’s mother, Polly, a formidable opponent with plenty of witty snark.

The lavish Palm Springs setting is clear from the outset by the pristine set design, complete with azure pool, along with the preppy tennis clothes the actors enter wearing. The whole production exudes the same clean-cut, polished vibe; the passionate monologues might not be heart-wrenching, but they’re decidedly en pointe.

Other Desert Cities, directed by Rachel Ditor, is the opening production of the Arts Club’s 50th season. It’s playing at their Stanley stage until October 20. 

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