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“Other Desert Cities” Showcases Oklahoma City Talent

Kenneth Benton directs the Pulitzer Prize finalist “Other Desert Cities” by Jon Robin Baitz at Carpenter Square Theatre, bringing a lot of old ideas and fears into a new perspective for modern audiences. “Other Desert Cities” tells the story of Brooke Wyeth (Paula Sullivan) a writer who returns to her family at Christmas to share her newly written—and about to be published—personal memoir. Her parents are conservative; father Lyman Wyeth (Terry Veal) is a retired, successful ‘B’ movie actor, and mom Polly (Angie Duke) is a retired fluff movie writer. Visiting brother Trip Wyeth (Chad Alan Baker) is a successful television producer; Aunt Silda (Lilli Bassett), a recovering alcoholic still on the edge and mom’s collaborator in the very early days, lives nearby. The memoir threatens family unity by exposing a family secret.

Brooke’s memoir serves as a catharsis for her and allows her to get beyond a long term writer’s block that has plagued her career. Brother Trip’s presence provides some perspective because the family secret is from so early in his life that he is able to be objective. Aunt Silda, is played by Lilli Bassett, and it is easy to see the desperation she faces in avoiding another drink along with a fierce determination to keep that monkey off her back. Lyman Wyeth and wife Polly offer a very credible example of an American couple of a certain generation, socially and politically conservative at one level, yet open to other views. They support their daughter, and clearly the writing of the memoir is not the problem; it is the publication of the memoir that feels dangerous to them. This imminent book forces them to face the family secret, an event that they have written out of their lives for three decades. They will not willingly let go of any façade that helps them maintain their own illusions.

Veal is a solid and dependable actor, and a very familiar face to Oklahoma City audiences. On occasion, he has the good fortune to be cast in a role that shows his brilliance as well. The role of Lyman Wyeth is one of these brilliant performances for Veal, and enhances the production and the work of the other cast members. His high standard is met beautifully by Duke as Polly Wyeth; this is a difficult role, as Polly tries so hard to hide layers within a normal life. Bassett as sister Silda shines as she directs the bright light of exposure unrelentingly supporting her distraught niece, Brooke. Sullivan’s Brooke is played with clarity; she emotionally separated from her family in the same way any rebellious teenager is prone to be. It is difficult for all concerned when the teenage rebellion chooses to reveal its ugly head in a middle-aged woman, yet Sullivan does a commendable job of modeling this for the audience. In many families, the ‘rock’ of family dynamics is found in the younger children because they often miss some of the family troubles. Baker manages to bring Trip Wyeth to life in a way that lets us see him concentrating on his own growing pains.

Ben Hall, an accomplished local set designer, sets a very high standard on the technical side; he has given us a great set that is comfortable for actors and audience. The rest of the crew has risen to Hall’s standard; technically the show is ideally run. Director Benton has done the hard work of finding the perfect cast and assembling an excellent crew. It obviously enabled him to concentrate fully on the nuances of the production and makes “Other Desert Cities” a true comedy-drama—truly a drama that is very funny. He has done valuable service to the intent of author Baitz in the production.

“Other Desert Cities” plays at Carpenter Square Theatre through June 7, 2014, and is a must see in Oklahoma City. Carpenter Square is located at 800 West Main in downtown OKC where one finds, amazingly, lots of parking. Showtime is 8:00 pm weekend nights. Call Carpenter Square Theatre at 405-232-6500 or visit for tickets. Pick up a drink at the Carpenter Square Bar and view the “Looney Tunes: Inward Please” exhibit by Drew Hooper.

Elizabeth Hurd

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