Phillip Clark, Joy Franz, Christopher Bolan, and Nancy Lemenager in Other Desert Cities at Engeman Theater. Photo Credit: Alan Pearlman
Playing at Northport’s Engeman Theater from now through March 9, 2014, is the family drama Other Desert Cities. The setting is Christmas Eve 2004 at the Wyeth home in Palm Springs, California, and from the minute the actors walk on stage you are immersed in this gripping drama as the lives of the five characters unfold. There is plenty of humor as well, mostly coming from actress Joan Porter who plays Silda Grauman, the eccentric, liberal and sometimes sober aunt, and from Christopher Bolan who plays the main character’s brother Trip Wyeth.
Other Desert Cities plays the following performance schedule: Thursdays at 8:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.
The story’s central character is novelist Brooke Wyeth, played by Nancy Lemenager, who returns home to Palm Springs for Christmas after a six-year absence. Her parents are former leading Republicans who used to work in Hollywood and have escaped to the desert. Brooke announces that she has completed the writing of a memoir based on their lives including an explosive chapter in the family’s history, one that has remained secret all of these years. The family struggles with the questions Brooke poses about how they feel about her sharing these secrets with the world. Brooke’s book is mostly about another family member, Henry, who is no longer living and died tragically. “So much for Yuletide cheer,” says Trip, when the family’s tragedy begins to unfold and they each share how they were affected by Henry’s suicide.
“He was my best friend,” says Brooke. “He didn’t leave me a note, but he left it to you. Why? You don’t leave people that way. You steal their lives as well.”
We hear a story about a boy who did a lot of drugs as a teenager and got involved with the wrong people. His parents struggled to “save” him, made him cut his hair, sent him to boarding school, and didn’t allow him to see his friends. Aunt Silda encourages Brooke to not break down and give in to her parents, who clearly don’t want to share these secrets with the world. “Fight on, don’t back down Brooke,” says Silda. “Do it for Henry. You have ideas. They only have fear.”
But Lyman, the head of the household, played by Phillip Clark, begs Brooke not to publish the book and “punish us all.” He calls it good manners. You can tell that Brooke seriously considers her Daddy’s request, but she is “past the point of good manners.”
Brother Trip wants to keep the peace, but Brooke wants him to back her up and give her permission to publish her book. He argues that regardless of whether the book is published or not, “when you’re taking your last breath, all that will have mattered is how you loved.”
The situation gets even more heated when an even bigger secret is revealed toward the end of the play.
Other Desert Cities was written by Jon Robin Baitz (creator of TV’s “Brothers & Sisters”), a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play is directed by RICHARD T. DOLCE, the Producing Artistic Director of The John W. Engeman Theater and the design team includes JONATHAN COLLINS (Scenic Design), TRICIA BARASAMIAN (Costume Design), DRISCOLL OTTO (Lighting Design), LAURA FREY (Sound Design), MARK ADAM RAMPMEYER (Hair and Make-Up Design) and BRYAN PRYWES (Props Design). The Casting Director is STEPHEN DeANGELIS and the Production Stage Manager is SARAH GOSHMAN.
The cast features: CHRISTOPHER BOLAN (Trip Wyeth), who played Sky in the Broadway production and National tour of MAMMA MIA. He has performed in NYC at Lincoln Center, The Public Theater, The Lark Theater, The Skirball Center, The P.I.T. Theater and Studio Tisch; PHILLIP CLARK (Lyman Wyeth), appeared on Broadway in COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA and FIFTH OF JULY, with Off-Broadway credits that include OMNIUM GATHERUM, A LAST DANCE FOR SYBIL, THE DIRECTOR, ROMEO & JULIET (Lortel), THE BOYS IN THE BAND; JOY FRANZ (Polly Wyeth) has been in the Broadway productions of INTO THE WOODS (Original, Revival, PBS); A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, COMPANY, PIPPIN, MUSICAL CHAIRS, OPEN ADMISSIONS, SWEET CHARITY and LYSISTRATA JONES, with Off-Broadway credits that include: ‘NIGHT MOTHER, THREEPENNY OPERA, ASSASSINS and ALL MY SONS. Her National Tours and Regional productions include Amanda in THE GLASS MENAGERIE, and has been seen on the TV shows CARRIE DIARIES, LAW & ORDER and CENTRAL PARK WEST; NANCY LEMENAGER (Brooke Wyeth), whose Broadway credits include CHICAGO (Velma), MOVIN’ OUT (Brenda) and NEVER GONNA DANCE (Penny), and regionally has been seen in WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST (Theresa Rebeck World Premiere), SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (Actors Theater of Louisville), ROMEO AND JULIET (Virginia Stage), SHE LOVES ME (Arena Stage: Helen Hayes Nomination) and her 2004 Carnegie Hall Debut: Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops, with television appearances that include ELEMENTARY, GIRLS, THE GOOD WIFE, NURSE JACKIE, 30 ROCK and LAW AND ORDER SVU; and JOAN PORTER (Silda Grauman), who began her career with the famed Kenley Players, and on Broadway she was seen in THE INSPECTOR GENERAL, with Off-Broadway: EVERY DAY A VISITOR, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, A TASTE OF HONEY, BLUES FOR MR. CHARLIE (starring Ossie Davis), THE GLASS MENAGERIE and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE THE MUSICAL (workshop), and regionally, she has performed at Seattle Rep., Syracuse Stage and Common Place Theater, and T.V. credits include LOUIE, GIRLS, LAW AND ORDER, THIRD WATCH and RYAN’S HOPE, and Joan has been seen in the films THE FRONT (starring Woody Allen), BROOKLYN (HBO), THE SWEET LIFE (starring Joan Jett) and LAW AND DISORDER (starring Carroll O’Connor and Ernest Borgnine)
Tickets are $55, and may be purchased by calling (631) 261-2900, by visiting www.engemantheater.com, or at the Engeman Theater Box Office, 250 Main Street, Northport.