“Family. Secrets. Addiction. Morality,” said actor Bryan Langlitz as he described the substance of the upcoming play “Other Desert Cities,” the newest offering from the Lake Dillon Theatre Company.
Langlitz portrays Trip, the youngest member of the Wyeth family featured in “Other Desert Cities,” a 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist written by Jon Robin Baitz.
“Trip Wyeth is the fun and funny mediator in a family being torn apart by conflicting accounts of the past,” said Langlitz, who is making his Lake Dillon Theatre Company debut in the role. “Eventually, he is able to confess to his sister Brooke about a life he leads outside of his role as a goofy, agreeable younger brother, a life and sadness she knows nothing about.”
At its core, “Other Desert Cities” explores the unspoken family rules of secrecy and loyalty when struggling writer Brooke Wyeth, played by Claire Warden, announces that she is about to publish a memoir dredging up a pivotal, tragic event in the family’s history. Her recollections of her family’s past, stained by decades of fading memories and revisionist perceptions of actual events, become blurred when details surrounding once-buried secrets painfully emerge.
Heavy themes, likeable characters
While Other Desert Cities may dredge up heavy themes of intergenerational conflict and nostalgia for times less complicated, playwright Jon Robin Baitz introduces characters who are both likable and recognizable, and their dialogue is often bitingly hilarious.
“The play’s humorous moments give levity to the otherwise more weighty subject matter,” said Christopher Alleman, Lake Dillon Theatre Company producing artistic director who also directs the production. “The wry one-liners and comic banter give us insight into how these people deal with family conflict. It’s the kind of writing that keeps audiences wanting to hear more of what this family has to say.”
Returning Lake Dillon Theatre Company member Jennifer Condreay (Edward Albee’s “Seascape,” “Doubt”) joins Langlitz and Warden in the matriarchal role of Polly. Tony Campisi and Nancy Evans complete the cast in the roles of patriarch Lyman Wyeth, Hollywood actor turned U.S. ambassador, and Silda Grauman, Polly’s recovering addict sister, respectively.
A view from four sides
“Other Desert Cities” marks the Lake Dillon Theatre Company’s first production since “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in 2005 that is staged in-the-round.
“Theatre-in-the-round is a production configuration where the stage is in the center with audience members arranged on all sides, creating a uniquely intimate experience for both the performers on the stage and the audience, as well,” Alleman said. “We’ve been waiting for the right show to reintroduce this seating arrangement for the last couple of seasons. (‘Other Desert Cities’) is a great fit for theatre-in-the-round because of the ongoing conflict and plot twists and turns.”
The play takes place in the living room of the Wyeth’s Palm Desert home on Christmas Eve 2004.
“Audience members can view the stage from all four sides, and depending on where patrons sit, they may experience slightly different perspectives of the play itself,” Alleman said. “We hope that our audiences’ slightly varied perspectives mirror the characters’ shifting viewpoints as the plot unravels and the Wyeths begin to better understand each other, for better and for worse.”
An American family
“Other Desert Cities” is the second play of the Lake Dillon Theatre Company’s 20th Anniversary Season, featuring nine productions that celebrate journeys of self-discovery and growth amidst a changing American landscape.
“(‘Other Desert Cities’) resembles the classic American family dramas of the 20th century, from O’Neill’s ‘Long Days Journey into Night’ to Edward Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’” Alleman said. “The play examines the differences between reality and fantasy and what happens when a secret wound becomes forgotten and then abruptly, unexpectedly exposed. The dialogue is unapologetically real, and audiences can expect to engage in an upfront, unearthed look at how families struggle with American life today.”
Alleman said the play contains mature language and themes and may not be appropriate for all audiences.
“The words (Baitz) has written for these characters are fantastic to spit out at one another; they are sharp, smart, pained people,” said Langlitz, who added that the play and his role of Trip resonate with him as an actor. “Not because (Trip’s) exact circumstances are familiar, but because his role in the family, his generation, his career are all elements of Trip that are only a degree or two off from my own life.
“The playwright allows for you to leave the theater not feeling cheated. After two hours of sharing ‘deeply conflicting accounts,’ the characters and the audience are able to walk away with answers.”