“The actors infused life” with PCS production of Other Desert Cities
A sapper crawls toward an enemy bunker, pulls the igniter on his satchel charge, tosses it in and takes cover seconds before the explosion. Satisfied that it has neutralized the enemy, the sapper moves to survey the damage when an even larger satchel flies out of the bunker, detonating the instant it hits the ground at his feet.
Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz is being presented at The Players Club of Swarthmore until November 4th. Directed by Thomas-Robert Irvin with Set Design by Timothy P. Oskin, Costume Design by Becky Wright, and Lighting Design by Ryan Stone.
It’s Christmas Eve, 2004, when budding novelist, Brooke Wyeth (Emily-Grace Murray) returns to her parents Palm Springs home after a six year absence ostensibly to celebrate Christmas with her card-carrying Republican parents, Lyman ( Leigh Jacobs) and Polly (Nancy Bennett), her younger brother Trip (Brandon Young) and her eccentric, ultra-liberal, alcoholic aunt, Silda Grauman (Lorraine Barrett).
But Brooke, a damaged soul who, since before she left home, has been under the care of a psychiatrist for depression. The reason she has come home, she reveals to Trip, is to tell her parents about her memoir that is soon to be published in the New York Times.
She tells him, it’s is about their late brother, Henry, “who we can’t talk about”, who “went to war” with their parents, joined a cult and disappeared. Later, he was involved in the bombing of an Army recruiting center that resulted in the death of an innocent bystander and, distraught by what he had done, committed suicide.
On learning of the subject of the memoir and its imminent publication, Lyman and Polly go into panic mode. Lyman tells her “I am frightened. In two months the most painful part of our lives will be in the glossy pages of a magazine and then a few months later a book.”
With the full support of Aunt Silda, Brooke rejects the entreaty of her parents not to publish the memoir. “There will be a book, and it will be for Henry. What happened to Henry will have been seen.”
Lyman ends Act One with “So you will publish your book and punish us all and a reporter will call me for a comment and I will say ‘No comment’. I will keep saying it until I die ‘No comment’”.
What follows in Act Two turns everything on its head so much so that I understood the meaning of the title. I won’t deny you the full effect of the second “satchel”
To a man/woman the actors infused life into their characters and absorbed me into the story. They are very well cast. I did not “catch” anyone acting. A standing “O” for each one. (The role of Silda is one of those that actors would pay to play.)
As for the play, itself, Act One was chock-a-block with exposition. In film, the rule of thumb is that, within the first 10 minutes, you must not only identify the protagonist and the antagonist, but also let the audience know what the story is all about. It took over 20 minutes to accomplish that here. But after that, it moved with the force of a freight train.
Enough so that it moved me.
By way of a technical note, I sat in the last row – on purpose – and had difficulty comprehending dialogue that was spoken quickly – when it is, it’s appropriate to the character. Since there was no problem with projection or volume, I suspected it might be caused by the inherent acoustics. Nevertheless, I recommend sitting as far forward as is comfortable.
The theater is handicapped accessible – I took full advantage of it. The parking lot has about 5 or 6 handicap spaces and allows entrance to the theater without the need for climbing stairs.
The seats are comfortable and roomy enough even for a full-figured person like myself. Sight lines are average so I recommend not selecting a seat behind anyone taller than yourself.
Other Desert Cities performs weekends through November 4th
Players Club of Swarthmore
Charley is a 25 year member of SAG/AFTRA with principal roles in TV series including The Wire, The Sopranos, Law and Order, Law and Order SVU, Homicide Life on the Street and Cold Case, and films including Liberty Heights and Two Bits. His professional theater credits include Guys and Dolls (Nicely Johnson), Fiddler on the Roof (Lazar Wolf), The Wizard of Oz (Cowardly Lion), Gangstertown (Mayor Big Bill Thompson) and Niagara Falls (Mr. Poletti). Charley has also appeared in Chicago (Billy Flynn), Annie (Daddy Warbucks), Damn Yankees (Van Buren) and Annie Get Your Gun (Charlie Davenport).