Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Maltz Jupiter Theatre: Other Desert Cities (reviews)

Other-Desert-CitiesThe Maltz Jupiter Theatre opened its production of Other Desert Cities on Febuary 16, 2014.
When a young novelist returns home to Palm Springs for the holidays, she announces that she is about to publish a memoir dredging up a tragic event in the family’s history. The book threatens to put her prominent all-American family back in the tabloids. But will her family stop her? Will the truth be exposed? This hot new Tony-nominated play sheds light on a dysfunctional family reunion everyone can relate to.
Peter Flynn directed a cast that featured Richard Kline, Angie Radosh, Andrea Conte, Susan Cella, and Cliff Burgess.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
All through the engrossing and ultimately wrenching second act of the Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s production of Other Desert Cities, one question screamed for an answer: Where were you people in the first act?
Not that anyone was giving a less than competent performance in the first half, but the actors failed to create persuasively realistic human beings while slogging through the endless waist-deep muck of exposition that playwright Jon Robin Baitz mired his characters in.
This did not seem the case at all in the Broadway production in 2011 nor the one at Actors Playhouse in Coral Gables last season.
In other productions, the audience quickly realizes that something is simmering under the surface beyond Baitz’s premise that a writer is about to publish a book exposing her family’s darkest period. There also was a sense of controlled fire and steel wills and deeply buried secrets. But not in the first hour of this edition.
Conversely, once all the relationships are drawn and the backstory is laid out in the first act, the actors in the second act suddenly inhabited the characters and convincingly explored the yin and yang emotions and dizzying family dynamics. All five actors shone with such a vividness and plausibility that their absence in the first act becomes all the more notable.
Both Baitz and this cast under Peter Flynn’s direction excel at creating that sense of an emotional bond through a generous sprinkling of arch witticisms and pleasure at referencing shared experiences… Other than the exposition problem, director Flynn has elicited some good work from the cast, especially in the final half-hour.
Conte, who was so fine as the unfaithful wife in Arts Garage’s Gloucester Blue, has the linchpin role…  after intermission, Baitz has given her red meat to work with and she is absolutely up to the challenge
Cella is clearly a solid actress with talent and technique. Her carefully coiffed Polly plausibly harbors such a strange stew of interior forces at war with each other… It’s absolutely unfair to compare performances, but I missed the tough-as-titanium and almost cruelly judgmental qualities that her predecessors have infused in the part.
Easily one of the best actresses in the region, Radosh can simply do no wrong. But this edition of a blowsy self-destructive truth-teller wasn’t as compelling as others we’ve seen…
Kline looks the part and puts across the faded charm that his matinee idol used to get along in the social world of GOP politics.
Burgess has a tough part in Trip who is written  especially passive-aggressive… Burgess makes Trip’s opinions credible even though they range all over the place from pragmatism to tough love to supportive to critical.
Anne Mundell’s set design of the flagstone living room was stunning, lit by Cory Pattak... Wade Laboissonniere’s costumes are equally dead perfect mirrors of character and class from Lyman’s tennis whites to Brooke’s studied informality to Polly’s stylish couture outfit that passes for casual at the country club dining room.
Mary Murray reviewed wrote for Palm Beach Illustrated:
The Maltz Jupiter Theatre, under the guidance of director Peter Flynn, handles this production with finesse. The play is as funny as it is sad and, given the fast-pace dialogue, it would be easy to bury the beats. For the most part, the cast delivers. There are a few stumbles with lines here and there, but that is to be expected with such a demanding script. The cast overcomes this by forming a convincing family unit—one with layers of experience, misunderstanding and hurt—and building to a dramatic climax that will leave you in tears.
Personally, we don’t excuse stumbling over lines in professional theatre; learning the lines is part of the job.

The literature blog Lucanae Musings took in the play:
It was a pleasant surprise to see such a stimulating play at the Maltz Theatre, not that they haven't had such plays in the past, but we wish they would do more, this one in particular having the "look and feel" of the serious Palm Beach Dramaworks productions, including two actors who frequent the latter stage, the always dependable Cliff Burgess and the fabulous Angie Radosh. Add the other very competent actors, the set and staging, and the result is an evening of fine theatre
…I must say a few words about the set, the first one designed at the Maltz by Anne Mundell, a highly accomplished set designer and teacher of Scenic Design at Carnegie Mellon University's School of Drama. If verisimilitude is the objective of a set, this one is over the top. It IS a desert home and one feels as if real people live there. It is also somewhat monochromatic, like the desert, with people living out their secrets there. Outstanding. And Cory Pattak took full advantage of lighting the extraordinary stage and capturing changing emotional moments.
Andrea Conte's Brooke begins her role as an anxious, depressed, physically agitated young woman and then elevates it to an angry depressed person, with a certain shrillness about her portrait that was at times jarring, frightening. I don't know how she could have played the role any differently -- it was her yoke as written by Baitz -- and she was certainly credible, transforming herself into a "different Brooke" in the play's coda, an act of resignation and acceptance.
Angie Radosh… inhabited a similar role as Claire in Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance…The two plays are eerily similar as are Radosh's role in each.. but she is a consummate pro, having antipathy for Polly's values... Another outstanding performance...
Cliff Burgess is really coming into his own as one of the more versatile actors in South Florida... The perfect cynicism, carried off by Burgess depicting the way we live today along with his constant texting, even while speaking -- the modern day multitasker. But he's had his own secrets as well... A bravura performance...
Richard Kline's performance as the patriarch of the family, Lyman, is spot on.  Kline, who once had a regular role in the sitcom Three's Company, rises to the occasion in this serious drama.
I think this play is a director's nightmare. The play is long -- 2 hours plus an intermission -- and there is a lot of dialogue and raw emotion, and although only five characters, it is a crowded stage, so, unavoidably, there are times when actor's backs are to some part of the audience… The first act all seems to be about establishing the characters, not the explosive emotion of the second act, a fault of the play or the director? It's hard to tell. Still, Peter Flynn, who directed the Maltz's award-winning Man of La Mancha, keeps focused on the playwright's intention, so accurately summed up by a line from the play that Flynn quotes in his playbill commentary: Everything in life is about being seen, or not seen, and eventually, everything IS seen.
Indeed, the Maltz has done a very credible job with a very good play. Although upon exiting I heard someone say, "I wish they just did all musicals," for me, keep a fine play or two in the mix each season!
The Maltz Jupiter Theatre production of Other Desert Cities plays through March 2, 2014.

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