Review Roundup: OTHER DESERT CITIES - All the Reviews!
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by BWW Special Coverage
Stockard Channing, Rachel Griffiths, Stacy Keach, Judith Light and Thomas Sadoski star in its Broadway production of Jon Robin Baitz's critically acclaimed new play OTHER DESERT CITIES, opening tonight at the Booth Theatre.
OTHER DESERT CITIES had its premiere at Lincoln Center Theater last winter where it was an immediate sell out during its limited engagement run at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. Winner of the 2011 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play, it was also nominated for multiple Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel Awards, including Best Play.
In Other Desert Cities, Brooke Wyeth (to be played by Rachel Griffiths who is making her Broadway debut), 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 (Stockard Channing and Stacy Keach), her brother (Thomas Sadoski) and her aunt (to be played by Judith Light). 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 and the Wyeths are both bound together and torn apart as they struggle to come to terms with their past. LCT gratefully acknowledges that Ms. Griffiths will appear in Other Desert Cities with the permission of Actors Equity Association. What did the critics think? Find out now!
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: "Cities," directed with a masterly combination of shadow and shimmer by Joe Mantello, emerges as stronger, more sincere and more credible in its Broadway reincarnation... The Wyeths' competitive hyper-articulateness seems to come more naturally to them now. Always balanced on a razor's edge of affection and aggression, this studied cleverness is what allows them to continue to communicate with one another.
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: We've all heard this scenario before: Family members gather for a fraught holiday reunion in which embarrassing family secrets - lubricated by booze and resentment - tumble out. But Jon Robin Baitz has taken that cliche and somehow made it vibrant in "Other Desert Cities," which had its world debut last year at Lincoln Center Theater and has now made the jump to Broadway. It opened Thursday at the Booth Theatre. The script crackles with life and so do the performances.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: When it premiered in January, Jon Robin Baitz's first new play in six years, Other Desert Cities, was smart and entertaining. But in its move to Broadway, this domestic dustup has ripened significantly...The cast could not be better. Under Mantello's firm hand, the actors never strike a false note. In their speech rhythms and body language with one another -- their relaxed intimacy or wary distance, their camaraderie or distrust, their easy banter or silent, hostile regard - they are unmistakably a family.
Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Now on Broadway, where it's sporting a few subtle tweaks (good ones) and two new actors (ditto), this astutely drawn and deliciously performed play is as juicy and surprising as ever...Like a good popcorn movie, “Desert” holds you rapt and keeps you guessing to the end, although, admittedly, you may have questions about some of the logic.
Matt Windman, amNY: At first glance, "Other Desert Cities" doesn't seem all that different from numerous other family dramas in which tensions mount and secrets inevitably spill. But it is distinguished by the depth and complexity of each and every character, as well as the play's seamless structure...Under Mantello's directional finesse, this exceptional five-member cast turns Baitz's blueprint of family squabbling into a portrait of regret and denial that is as witty and entertaining as it is emotionally cathartic.
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: Jon Robin Baitz's "Other Desert Cities," which had a very successful run at Lincoln Center Theater last winter, has now transferred to Broadway, where it will surely do at least as well-and deservedly so. Though not without flaw, Mr. Baitz's latest play, a group portrait of a Reaganesque show-business family whose members are keeping secrets from one another, is for the most part both soundly made and emotionally persuasive, and Stockard Channing, Rachel Griffiths, Stacy Keach, Judith Light and Thomas Sadoski are as good a cast as anyone could hope for.
Michael Musto, The Village Voice: Baitz's initial banter is fun, but in Act Two dimensions are added and the play becomes Tennessee-Williams-like in its recriminations, revelations, and shifting loyalties, going beyond the scope of the usual "Someone's spilling the beans" drama. As the rage boils to a head, the characters (two of whom love saying "I know myself") find that they never really knew each other, and they're in for a few shocks that are well played by a cast of well-knowns.
Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: Dark secrets unfurl in waves, eventually beaching the play with one Big Reveal too many. Even as skilled a director (and frequent Baitz collaborator) as Joe Mantello can't keep the thing from sinking in implausibility.
Howard Shapiro, The Philadelphia Inquirer: In Jon Robin Baitz's searingly funny and jolting new play Other Desert Cities, which opened at Lincoln Center and then again on Broadway Thursday night, this is a family larger than life, and overwhelmed by it...Jon Robin Baitz has given them a terrific, insightful and often funny play, and they know just what to do with it.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: This is rich territory -- the fraught relationship between Polly and Silda alone is worth a spinoff -- but Baitz doesn't clobber us with messages or psychobabble. He just makes spending time with these messed-up, complicated people a genuine pleasure.
Linda Winer, Newsday: That this is a major work won't surprise anyone who loved it at Lincoln Center Theater's Off-Broadway space last winter. Recast for Broadway with two new actors, the five-character family drama feels even more powerful -- a boldly conventional yet altogether gripping work that knows individual psychology as keenly as it understands the world around it.
Peter Marks, Washington Post: The refined caliber of acting gives the playwright's words their satisfying potency. Griffiths and Sadoski excel as the alternately aggressive and defensive progeny of parents far more conservative than they. Keach, continuing in the path of the fine Lear he portrayed at Shakespeare Theatre Company, conveys the fading leonine strength of a prideful patriarch. And Channing's turn as a Nancy Reagan acolyte, stoic and seething at the very same time, is remarkable.
Elysa Garder, USA Today: The expert cast, under Joe Mantello's thoughtful direction, mines the resulting conflicts for all their hilarity and poignance. After Brooke pours her heart out defending her book, Thomas Sadoski's witty Trip offers an equally passionate (and entertaining) summation of the selfishness in her suffering and healing. And when Channing's pitch-perfect Polly clashes with her sister - a recovering alcoholic, played by Judith Light, who suggests what Brooke might become if she fully disappeared up her own navel - neither is victorious or vanquished.
Roma Torre, NY1: Returning cast members Stacey Keach, Thomas Sadoski and Stockard Channing are even better than before, impossible as that may seem. It's not entirely flawless, but under Joe Mantello's expert direction, theater lovers should still find "Other Desert Cities" a prime destination.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Helmer Joe Mantello did a savvy job of recasting "Other Desert Cities" for its Broadway transfer. When the show preemed at Lincoln Center earlier this year, it wasn't clear that Jon Robin Baitz's tightly wrapped family drama about a patrician clan of Old Guard California Republicans even had a leading character. That ensemble vibe survives in this production, but with the magnetic Rachel Griffiths ("Six Feet Under") now taking the lead in the part of the renegade daughter from New York, it's easier to overlook the artifices of the plot and surrender to the drama.
Scott Brown, NY Magazine: Like all the great desert tribes of antiquity, Palm Springs Republicans deserve their own sacred text. (For the purposes of this review, Prop 13 and "My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan" don't count.) Jon Robin Baitz, a gay liberal humanist, has delivered them a doozy with "Other Desert Cities," his off-Broadway hit, which has now ripened admirably on Broadway. Power, passion, and superbly crafted palaver stippled with blowdarts of wit-this is what Baitz ("The Substance of Fire," TV's "Brothers and Sisters") does best. He's written his favorite sort of story, a simple tale of parents and children and blame ... in which the legacy of the Old American Century and the unsteady prospect of a new one just happen to be at stake.
Thom Greier, Enertainment Weekly: The Wymans emerge as an all-American family, acting out against each other out of both love and self-interest. And the show's second-act fireworks seem like a fittingly all-American way to celebrate the arrival of a major new play.
Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: The one thing that comes across with great power in both productions of this play for grown-ups is the sense of a dilemma that few of us can escape: How do we balance what we need with what we owe those who are closest to us?