Other Desert Cities

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Lisa Gormley as Brooke and Deborah Kennedy as Polly Wyeth. Pic Clare Hawley

With his play OTHER DESERT CITIES, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2012, American playwright Jon Robin Baitz tackles some major subjects the most interesting being the fall-out that takes place, as it often does, when a brave soul, particularly one in the public eye, decides to put pen to paper and write a tell-all autobiographical piece.

I am sure that Mr Baitz would be highly impressed if he saw Mark Kilmurry’s current production at Kirribilli’s Ensemble’s theatre. The five member cast poignantly bring to life his very well drawn and easy to relate to characters.

The action takes place on Ailsa Paterson’s stage featuring sea-grass matting flooring and a gidgee brick feature wall that also dislays a small painting of a desert vista.

The time is 2003, the setting is a Christmas family get together of the Wyeth family in their Palm Springs home.

The reunion comprises ageing parents Polly Wyeth (Deborah Kennedy) and Lyman Wyeth (Ken Shorter), Polly’s sister Silda Grauman (Diana McLean) and their adult children, daughter Brooke (Lisa Gormley) and younger son Trip (Stephen Multari).

Baitz’s drama features a classic battle of wills between an equally militant  protagonist and antagonist.

On one side of the ring you have Lisa Gormley as Brooke,who starts the fire when she announces that she recently completed a new book, an autobiographical work primarily focused on the tragic death of her brother, Henry, and has submitted the work to her publisher. The book is strongly critical of her parents’ troubled relationship with the very difficult Henry.

Polly, determined to put out the fire before it gets out of control, begs Brook to withdraw the book from publication. She argues that the family have already suffered so much pain over Henry’s death- it all took place in the public eye with her husband being a well known actor, and then an Ambassador with the Reagan Government, and the family can’t bear to have the whole terrible story revisited now.

Brook refuses to give in. Mother and daughter clash heatedly.

We feel for both characters realised with such conviction by Lisa Gormley as the intense young woman cathartically attempting to process her grief and anger, and Deborah Kennedy as the stern, icy toned, controlling mother trying to hold onto her authority.

Ken Shorter as Polly’s husband Lyman and Stephen Multari as Brook’s younger brother, Trip, in a typical male stance, try and keep a neutral tone but are drawn in to the conflict because of the huge emotions involved.

Polly’s live in sister Silda, well played by Diana McLean, is also drawn in, owing primarily to the competitive nature of her relationship with her older sister.

Go ringside at the Ensemble Theatre and catch the sparks  flying in one hell of a family drama.

OTHER DESERT CITIES opened at the Ensemble Theatre on Thursday 11th September and plays until Saturday 18th October.