Last night my wife and I saw “Other Desert Cities” at the Old Globe. Great production, but what I enjoyed most is the story, written by Jon Robin Baitz. This Pulitzer-nominated play is well crafted and has a staggering plot twist that caught me off guard. We also got lucky — the cast came out afterward for Q&A. They gave high marks to director Richard Seer.
I’m of a mind to go again to see the first act and get a better grip on the foreshadowing and how the story unfolded. This, to me, is an excellent example of not only fine storytelling, but of insight into the human character — which, in fact, are inseparable. Baitz draws his characters with a fine, taut line, and the verbal exchanges bite as well as delight. Someone in the audience said it has similarities to Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. I can’t say; I have not read that book.
The play also had a personal connection for me and my book. The story is about a writer home for Christmas with her latest manuscript — a memoir that will expose long-buried family secrets. Of course, her politically well-connected parents (think “Ron and Nancy”) do not want those skeletons coming out of the closet and putting them and their family back in the headlines.
Although the play centers around a Vietnam War-era political protest, it is set in Palm Springs in 2004-2010 and resonates the current political climate with references to the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
James Hebert at the U-T San Diego gives it reasonable praise, but I think his emphasis on the comedic aspects is overdone. This is not a comedy. It is paper-flinging drama. Yes, it has moments of dark and even laugh-out-loud humor, but ultimately it is about family relationships, and anyone with a hint of self-awareness could use it as a mirror.
I highly recommend this play. If it’s not coming to a playhouse near you, you can buy the script online — although one reviewer said the production quality of the bound volume leaves a lot to be desired.