Monday, January 21, 2013

Actors' Playhouse: Other Desert Cities (3 reviews)

Actors' Playhouse opened its production of Other Desert Cities  at The Miracle Theater on January 16, 2013.
Brooke Wyeth, a once promising novelist, returns home after a six year absence to celebrate Christmas in Palm Springs with her parents, former members of the Reagan inner circle, her brother and her aunt. When Brooke announces she is about to publish a memoir focusing on an explosive chapter in the family's history, the holiday reunion is thrown into turmoil as the Wyeths struggle to come to terms with their past.
David Arisco directed a cast that featured Antonio Amadeo, Barbara Bradshaw, Erin Joy Schmidt, J. Kenneth Campbell, and Lourelene Snedeker.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Now getting an exhilarating regional debut at Actors’ Playhouse, the Pulitzer-finalist play by the creator of TV’s Brothers & Sisters is a witty, often intense examination of the infinitely varied ways we manage to hurt the ones we love.
Director David Arisco has assembled a cast of five formidable warriors, actors who play the complexities, flaws and vulnerabilities of each character.
...Bradshaw adds another vividly realized character to her resume, displaying the time-honed skills that helped her win the best actress Carbonell Award two years in a row (she’s won four over her long career). Campbell... is every inch the charming former movie star, his purring voice and controlled demeanor erupting volcanically once Lyman loses it over the threat that is Brooke’s book. Snedeker makes Silda a subversive if damaged-but-real life force, and as her nephew, Amadeo is playful and spirited, more like Silda than his conservative parents. Schmidt, making her Actors’ Playhouse debut, expertly navigates Brooke’s bumpy emotional ride from apprehension to outrage to shock.
Just as impressive as the fine cast is the way the design team has realized the Wyeths’ world. Tim Bennett provides the family’s sleek desert abode... Lighting designer Patrick Tennent colors that sky... Sound designer Alexander Herrin provides folk-flavored music that conveys the moment in time when the family’s world was forever altered. Ellis Tillman suggests character and class through his costumes, particularly in Polly’s put-together chic and Silda’s tackier, more colorful look.
Other Desert Cities ends with a coda that ties up several loose familial ends, but it isn’t nearly as dramatic as the final image Arisco and the actors paint on that devastating Christmas Eve. That’s the emotional apex of a soaring, exquisitely realized production.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Actors Playhouse’s rock solid production of last season’s Broadway triumph surgically peels away the Wyeth family’s layers of lies and fragile accommodations that allow humans to interact after perceived betrayals.
Powered by a fits-like-a-glove cast under David Arisco’s leadership... this Florida troupe slams home the shattering second act with more gut-scraping, heart-wrenching passion than we saw on Broadway.
Baitz, author of The Substance of Fire, Ten Unknowns on stage and creator of TV’s Brothers & Sisters, has penned a classically well-constructed script that excels in creating characters who seem to be one thing at first and then prove to be far more complex as revelation after revelation emerges.
We’ve backed into the production’s chief virtue: the cast under Arisco’s guidance. Aside from Campbell, it would be difficult to imagine a better cast from South Florida’s acting ranks. It’s not that anyone is typecast, but these roles are solidly in these actors’ wheelhouse.
Bradshaw long ago proved her huge range including these well-heeled doyennes. But the specific colors she brings to Polly and the depth that she invests in those colors is remarkable.
Matching Bradshaw step for step is Schmidt... Her bonhomie in the opening scene is absolutely persuasive, so it’s significant that she makes the reveal of her bottomless angst so convincingly part of the same character.... Schmidt fearlessly embraces Baitz’s view that Brooke is not blameless or totally pure in her motives.
Campbell... is a tad less compelling than the others... But Campbell nails the essence of a patriarch who desperately wants to keep his loved ones together...
Amadeo deftly creates a man trapped in trying desperately not to take sides while being actively supportive of the warring parties.
Snedeker is a past master at slinging witticisms like Dorothy Parker at the Algonquin Round Table. She teeters around the edges of the maelstrom with a physical and emotional unsteadiness that perfectly communicates someone fighting a losing battle to stay sober.
In the hands of all these artists, Other Desert Cities is a heart-rending odyssey of familial warfare that tests the strength of blood ties when so much emotional blood is spilled.
Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:
Not too many laughs, though, despite the pr's “funny” and “comedy”. It's also talky and with enough exposition to elicit a sigh or two.

So it's a challenge for Director David Arisco and his veteran cast to make this the Miami version of “the best new play on Broadway” (The New York Times).
Awkward staging does not help, with characters too often facing the audience (what are they looking at and whom are they addressing?)

But it's not all a dour evening at Actors'. It's a well cast piece, each actor the epitome of the character. Tim Bennett's Palm Springs home is perfect for the wealthy desert dweller and Patrick Tennent's subtle lighting through the picture windows is a joy.
Other Desert Cities plays at Actors' Playhouse through February 10, 2013.

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