The manicured life of a conservative actor-turned-politician and his impeccable wife is upset when relatives arrive at their Palm Springs home for the holidays — including politically liberal daughter Brooke, who’s about to publish a tell-all memoir.Mary Jo DuPrey directs Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities, opening July 8 at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum.
Baitz’s funny, explosive and entertaining look at unruly family politics was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. At Theatricum, it will be a true family affair, featuring members of founder Will Geer’s own family: daughtersEllen Geer and Melora Marshall, and granddaughterWillow Geer. Also in the cast are Mark Bramhall andRafael Goldstein.
Brooke Wyeth, a once promising novelist, returns home after a six-year absence to celebrate Christmas with parents Lyman and Polly, brother Trip and Aunt Silda. Lyman and Polly are the seemingly perfect upper middle class couple, “living the dream” in Palm Springs replete with wealth, political influence and A-list connections. But when Brooke announces that 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 in all desert lands, mirage can transfix and trick the inhabitants. When the heat gives way, reality comes into sharp and unrelenting focus. Old family wounds are opened, childhood memories are tested and the Wyeth clan learns that some secrets cannot stay buried forever.
“I wondered about the hubris in the act of writing about people who are actually living, and I thought so many people do this and so few people get to respond to it really,”
explained Baitz in an interview.
“There are so many great memoirs and they’re also absolutely unreliable in the fundamental sense. It came from my sense of trying to either expiate or make sense of my life as a writer up until now and the potential damage that I’ve been party to or done.”
The play’s title refers to a roadside sign on the eastbound I-10 that directs drivers to exit at Palm Springs, California, or head on to “other desert cities.”
Other Desert Cities premiered at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center Theater before transferring to Broadway in 2011, and has since been performed at regional theaters around the country. It was the winner of the Drama League Award for Distinguished Play, was named Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play by the Outer Critics Circle, received five Tony nominations including Best Play and was a 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Costume design is by Vicki Conrad; lighting design is by Zach Moore; sound design and original music are by Marshall McDaniel; set design is by Rich Rose; and props are by Sydney Russell. The production stage manager is Elna Kjordian.
With its one-of-a-kind outdoor setting in the heart of Topanga Canyon and its roots in the 1950s McCarthy-era Hollywood blacklist — when actors Will Geer and his wife, Herta Ware, created the theater as a haven for blacklisted actors — Theatricum is best known for its productions that frame contemporary social issues through the lens of theater.
Theatricum has been an oasis for theatergoers for over 40 years, presenting Shakespeare and the classics in repertory in its scenic, outdoor amphitheater in rustic Topanga Canyon. Unlike most theaters in the Los Angeles area which stage continuous runs of a single play, the Theatricum, using a company of actors, performs five plays each season on a rotating basis. By the end of the summer, when all five plays are up and running, it is possible to see a performance of each in a single weekend. Theatricum Botanicum is a recipient of the prestigious Margaret Harford Award, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circles highest honor for sustained excellence.
Theatricum Botanicum has been named “One of the 50 Coolest Places in Los Angeles” by Buzz magazine, “One of Southern California’s most beguiling theater experiences” by Sunset magazine, and “Best Theater in the Woods” by the LA Weekly. “The enchantment of a midsummer night at Theatricum Botanicum [makes it] crystal clear why audiences have been driving up into the hills since Theatricum’s maiden season way back in 1973. Summer Shakespeare doesn’t get any better than this,” writes StageSceneLA.Says Los Angeles magazine, “The amphitheater feels like a Lilliputian Hollywood Bowl, with pre-show picnics and puffy seat cushions, yet we were close enough to see the stitching on the performers costumes. Grab a blanket and a bottle and head for the hills.”
Other Desert Cities opens on Saturday, July 8 at 7:30 p.m. and continues through Sept. 30, running in repertory with The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Animal Farm and Trouble in Mind as part of Theatricum’s 2017 “Rising Up” summer season. Tickets range from $15-$38.50.
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. For a complete schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, call 310–455-3723 or log ontowww.theatricum.com. Visit Theatricum on facebook: www.facebook.com/theatricum. Follow us on twitter: @theatricum.
Details for Calendar Listings
‘Other Desert Cities’
Other Desert Cities — Jon Robin Baitz’s funny, explosive and entertaining look at unruly family politics was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. At Theatricum, it’s truly a family affair, with a cast that includes members of founder Will Geer’s own family: daughters Ellen Geer and Melora Marshall, and granddaughter Willow Geer. The manicured life of a conservative actor-turned-politician and his impeccable wife is upset when relatives arrive at their Palm Springs home for the holidays — including politically liberal daughter Brooke who’s about to publish a tell-all memoir.
• Written by Jon Robin Baitz
• Directed by Mary Jo DuPrey
• Starring Mark Bramhall, Ellen Geer, Willow Geer, Rafael Goldstein, Melora Marshall
• Presented by Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
Performances July 8–Sept. 30::
• Saturday, July 8 at 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, July 15 at 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, July 29 at 3:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Aug. 5 at 3:30 p.m.*
• Sunday, Aug. 13 at 7:30 p.m.
• Sunday, Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Aug. 26 at 7:30 p.m.
• Sunday, Sept. 3 at 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 9 at 3:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 16 at 7:30 p.m.
• Sunday, Sept. 24 at 7:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m.
*Prologue (pre-show discussion): Saturday, Aug. 5 at 2:30 p.m. (included in ticket price)
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga CA 90290
(midway between Pacific Coast Highway and the Ventura Freeway)
• (310) 455-3723 or theatricum.com
• Visit us on facebook: facebook.com/theatricum
• Follow us on twitter: @theatricum
• Adults: $38.50 (lower tier); $25 (upper tier)
• Seniors (65+), Students, Military Veterans, Teachers, AEA Members: $25/$15
The outdoor amphitheater at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is terraced into the hillside of the rustic canyon. Audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to arrive early and picnic before a performance.