Catasauqua Press

Monday, June 17, 2019

Theater Review: Place Civic's 'Cities' on your itinerary

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 by PAUL WILLISTEIN pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

Civic Theatre Artistic Director William Sanders knows drama. And, he knows how to select stage dramas and direct them.

Sanders puts a fine point on "Other Desert Cities," an audacious; by turns, surprising, and, ultimately, thought-provoking and heart-rending drama-comedy about one family's secrets.

"Other Desert Cities" continues through March 15 at Civic's Nineteenth Street Theatre, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown. The play was reviewed March 1.

In Jon Robin Baitz's "Other Desert Cities," the secrets extend beyond the stone wall and patio window of the Wyeth family's Palm Springs, Calif., home where two of their children are visiting for the Christmas holiday season. There's a third sibling, a son, but he is missing. Therein lies the plot device at the heart of the Wyeths' machinations, accusations and chasm of sarcasm.

The Civic cast is superb and Sanders gets splendid performances in this terrific and memorable play (running two hours, not including intermission).

Barry Glassman brings to Lyman Wyeth a brooding frustration and emotional cauterization, save for several appropriately explosive moments. In his portrayal, he creates a sense of resignation that is at once sad and noble. If clothes make the man, Lyman is undone. He has washed his hands of his Hollywood acting glory days.

Becky Engborg, as Lyman's wife, Polly Wyeth, clearly wears the pants in the family, and she does so very smartly in white pants and a purple velour top. Polly is the Lady Macbeth in this tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. She just can't wash her hands of her family's past. Emborg gives us a Polly jolly only when she's spewing venom.

The secret gnaws at the couple's psyche. They can never quite address it. Hence: "thermonuclear family war."

Baitz's trenchant observations are sprinkled throughout the chatty, zingy, funny and frequently revelatory script ("The woman's liver needs a liver." "Truth is an expensive hobby.").

Will Morris presents the son, Trip Wyeth, as a seemingly glib Hollywood TV show producer. And yet, Morris conveys a pragmatism and depth of understanding that could serve the family well.

Gretchen Klinedinst Furst, as the daughter, Brooke Wyeth, is a nervous novelist who may have at least one more work in her. That's the problem. The manuscript she brings home for the holidays is the last thing her parents and brother want to read. Klinedinst Furst effectively brings a tentativeness to her characterization.

Marianne Green as Polly's sister, Silda, is only too eager to not only get her hands, but the world's hands, on Brooke's tome. Green has some delicious moments as she mines the conniving comedy in her role.

The sleek set design by Jason Sherwood frames the Palm Springs' living room like a picture. The drop ceiling and walls give a three-quarter perspective and intimacy to the large and high Civic stage. The lighting design by Will Morris is even, save for a few well-chosen moments.

Before-act songs (including Frank Sinatra's "You Make Me Feel So Young") set the tone, as do haunting opening and closing act instrumentals in Helena Confer's sound design.

It's only when the Wyeth family conversation veers in another direction, traveling that "other" road -- the "Other Desert Cities" interstate highway sign of the play's title -- that they stop using labels and, instead of characterizing each as the "other," discover their own and family members' true identities.

"Other Desert Cities" at Civic Theatre of Allentown is a place you should travel to. The road not taken can make all the difference. Having seen the play once, you may even want to play a return visit.

Ticket information: civictheatre.com, 610-432-8943