“Other Desert Cities,” making its Chicago premiere at the Goodman Theatre, is a captivating production that rightfully earns its accolades (it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony Award-nominee).
The play is set on Christmas Eve, 2004, at the sprawling Palm Springs home of Lyman and Polly Wyeth, a wealthy older couple with a Hollywood past and a famously conservative present. A visit from their children—son Trip (a delightfully slacker-ish reality show producer) and daughter Brooke (an outspoken liberal writer with a history of depression, who resides on the opposite end of the political spectrum from her parents)—sets off a chain reaction of increasingly raw confrontations and revelations, catalyzed by a controversial tell-all memoir that Brooke intends to publish. Orbiting around the nuclear family is Polly’s addled sister Silda, fresh out of rehab and less than content with her newly sober lifestyle.
It’s difficult to characterize the production, because it effortlessly morphs between comedy and drama, at once a political pot-stirrer and an intimate family portrait. The references are pure 21st century, yet the performances often seem like a throwback to the past, as cast members take turns delivering hyper-literate dialogue that may seem a little too mannered for some.
The play’s title is layered with meaning, referencing the desert location of the family mansion (impressively portrayed by the stunning set), or, as we later discover from a casual piece of dialogue, a powerful metaphor for choices and consequences, and, of course, a war being fought at the other side of the world that divided a nation.
A standout performance is given by Chelcie Ross—whom audience members may recognize as Conrad “Connie” Hilton from “Mad Men”—in the part of anguished patriarch Lyman, although the all-Chicago cast is shrewdly funny and unafraid of being shockingly politically incorrect—or politically correct to a fault. The most likeable of the characters, played by John Hoogenakker, is Trip, whose sarcastic, laid-back persona provides a perfect counterpoint to his moody sister, and offers welcome comic relief from the intensity of the escalating battle between generations.
If you’re part of a family, you will find something to identify with in these characters, as well as something to make you appreciate your own family. Either way, it’s an interesting evening at the theater, and shouldn’t be missed.
“Other Desert Cities”
Through Feb 17
170 N Dearborn