Director Mark Gorman was in New York City on the hunt for new plays. He’d heard good things about Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities, a 2012 Pulitzer finalist and Tony nominee. So Gorman picked up a copy of the script.
“I sat in a park in the middle of Manhattan and read it cover to cover, nonstop,” Gorman says. “I fell in love with the play and thought it was really beautifully written.”
The “witty, deeply enjoyable family drama” (according to The New York Times) is all about secrets—a family reunion for the ages. Liberal writer Brooke Wyeth comes home to her Republican Palm Springs parents with a surprise memoir, detailing a heartbreaking past her family would rather forget.
The Las Vegas production features real-life mother-daughter duo Charlene and Rozanne Sher playing their fictional counterparts. Charlene’s proper British accent distinguishes her from her all-American daughter Rozanne.
“We’re very close,” says daughter Rozanne (who plays Brooke) about her real-life relationship with her mom. “We’re very, very different, but people think we’re very much alike because of our mannerisms. It’s kind of the same with our characters. Where I differ is that I know how much I love my mom. I don’t know that my character has come to that point with her mother yet.”
“I agree completely,” says Charlene (who plays the highly polished mom, Polly).
An LA revival of the 2011 play also featured real-life family members and rave reviews from the Los Angeles Times: “The members of the Wyeth family are fully fleshed individuals, obviously fun for actors to inhabit,” reviewer Margaret Gray writes, “but they’re also representatives of our political parties and the ways they have failed us.”
Secrets and surprise revelations keep the audience engaged. The proper Reaganesque parents hide vast depths under their shiny veneer. The elephant at the family Christmas party is the late brother Henry, who committed suicide years earlier. It’s a tragedy that underpins the interactions of the family, its members trying to protect Brooke from her own depression while also attempting to block the memoir from the backbone of a combustive holiday gathering.
For this play, A Public Fit theater has secured a partnership with Nevada’s Office of Suicide Prevention. Suicide Prevention Training and Outreach Facilitator Richard Egan will attend the opening night talk back called the Buzzz. One of the planned themes is “surviving suicide.”
But don’t think that the serious topic means that the play will be a slog. “At the end of the day, our job as live performers is to tell a fun story,” Gorman says. “The characters are very realized and contain elements that anybody can draw from in their own life. At what cost do we color the truth with falsehoods in the name of protecting the ones we love? It’s a fun journey through all of that and very touching at the end.”
Other Desert Cities April 27–May 20, 2018, The Usual Place, 100 S. Maryland Parkway, $25-$30, 702-735-2114, apublicfit.org.