By MH Thomas
OTHER DESERT CITIES is a play written by Jon Robin Baitz, originally produced by Lincoln Center Theater, New York in 2010 and won the Outer Critics Circle Award in 2011. It is an interesting title—and as you watch the show, you will soon discover where that title came from.
I can never say enough about how UVU theatre has progressed over the years. Their program has become truly impressive. This production is the senior project of student, Jason R. Evans, who directed and designed this version and is to be congratulated on his efforts. This is a heart-wrenching play filled with powerful performances.
As this is a student run production, the set is very spartan. There are several chairs arranged to suggest various seating areas in a family living room in Palm Springs. A table with glasses and bottles of alcohol, which is visited often in the course of the evening, are the other set pieces.
As the story begins, the two adult children of a former actor turned politician/ambassador have come home for the Christmas season and are visiting pleasantly with their parents. The mood is fairly light in the beginning. Polly (Megan Ann Bisbee) and Lyman (Collin Thomas) Wyeth joke with their children Brooke (Abigail Snarr) and Trip (Kristopher Miles.) The mood becomes a bit tense as they discuss Brooke’s soon-to-be published book. Aunt Silda, Polly’s sister and a recovering alcoholic, performed by Melissa Anderson Brinkerhoff, appears a bit later and distracts everyone for a short time.
Brooke Wyeth seems reluctant to reveal the topic of her new book to her family. When she does, emotions run high and the tension in the theatre is palpable. These actors do an excellent job of portraying the gamut of emotions. Polly is very driven to maintain a certain appearance within the community–she is all about appearances. Megan Ann Bisbee’s performance left me with little love for this anger-filled character. Still, there is a sense that there is something going on behind her hard exterior. Collin Thomas does a fine job of displaying Lyman’s frustration, confusion and despair over the situation that the book has dredged up, and the issues they must all confront and examine after many years. There is a tenderness between father and daughter that comes through in their performances. Even as he is upset, it is clear that he is a caring parent. Kristopher Miles plays the part of Trip with the unsure cockiness of someone who is used to being in control and feels caught in the middle. He is goofy, serious and unsettled all in the same moment. Melissa Anderson Brinkerhoff’s Silda is in a fog much of the time—but sparks of wisdom and compassion break through. The performance could seem forced but is done in a very natural way.
The second act is where everything comes to a head. The high emotions of the first act run even higher. The pain of every member of the family is apparent in the performance of each actor. Secrets are revealed as they all struggle to understand the others’ insistence that their wishes and desires concerning the book are the appropriate ones. Lyman reaches a breaking point and the biggest secret is revealed.
As the play concludes, Abigail Snarr shows versatility in the way her character is portrayed from beginning to end. It is clear that Brooke has been affected by the events of that Christmas season when so much was revealed within this troubled family
This show has a lot of messages to present about family life and about life in general. You will not leave this play untouched by the emotions portrayed by these talented actors. Well done, Jason R. Evans. The show was so well cast and the actors directed in a way that truly brought this production to life. OTHER DESERT CITIES only plays for three days. Don’t miss it, if it is at all possible for you to attend.
Utah Valley University – Gunther Trades Building – ExBox Theatre (6th Floor)
Directions: Park in either lot # M23 or M24 (see UVU Parking Map). Enter door located North of the Noorda Theatre (see Gunther Trades Map), the entrance is by rooms 635 & 636; Turn Left at the end of the Hallway. The ExBox Theatre will be on your left (Room 627). Look for signs showing you the way as well as on the entrance door.
UVU Parking Map: http://www.uvu.edu/parking/permits/maps.html
UVU Gunther Trades Building Map:
CLICK ON SIXTH FLOOR SOUTH BUTTON
FOR VISITORS: You will not be ticketed if you park in the above lots. The parking is open to the public after 5. If you do get ticketed, take the ticket to Parking Services and make them aware that you were attending an event in the GT Building.
This show has some profanity, so young children and tweens are probably not appropriate audience members.
Thursday, October 23, Friday, October 24, 2014, & Saturday, October 25, 2014 @ 7:30 p.m. – Doors open @ 7:00 p.m.
Free Admission. Seating is very limited. Arrive early!
Written by Jon Robin Baitz
Directed by Jason Evans
Starring: Megan Ann Bisbee, Collin Thomas, Kristopher Miles, Abigail Snarr & Melissa Anderson Brinkerhoff