Local Jewell Productions’ take on Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Raitz at the Eclectic Theater on Capital Hill will get better with each performance. This is a family drama set at the desert home of the connected, Jewish, Republican, Wyeth family. Themes of loyalty, honor, love, justified violence, addiction, and creative freedom clash over two days around Christmas in 2004. I think Raitz wants us to feel a strong desire to stay and see it through and an equally strong desire to escape. Like being in a family. This show needs a bit more focus to manage this effect. I reviewed the show the night after opening and think director Christopher Jewell will have many “notes” to tweak this earnest cast into a better ensemble performance.
Gathered are Lyman (Eric Bischoff), the patriarch of the family, friend to high ranking Republicans and former ambassador under Reagan; Polly his wife (Eileen McCann); daughter Brooke (Anna Townes); son Trip (Chad Jones) and Polly’s sister Silda Grauman (Wanda Moats). Brooke is a writer who had one hit book followed by a long dry spell. Now she is on the cusp of publishing a memoir. In this book she describes the family dynamics she believes led to her older brother’s suicide after coming under suspicion in an anti-war bombing. Townes could have been more nervous in the opening scenes to show Brooke’s uneasiness with what she is about to ask her family to do—read the draft of her memoir and offer their blessings. Fat chance. Chad Jones as Trip Wyeth came closest to getting the pitch, tone, and range right as he portrayed a brother who both wants to support his sister while staying clear of the fray. He finds there’s no escape.
This play opened off Broadway in New York in 2011 under the title Love and Mercy and moved to Broadway with its current name in November of the same year. Reviews of the Broadway production comment on its humor, and sitting through this show I could hear the jokes, but there was little laughter. Part of the difficulty is that multiple members of the cast are still locking in their lines, and this disrupted both the confidence and timing so necessary for comedy. After the intermission, things came together a bit better and the show had a respectably strong finish.
Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Raitz. Directed by Christopher Jewell. A Local Jewell Production at the Eclectic Theater on Capital Hill, 1214 10th Ave. Runs 140 minutes including a single intermission. Fridays & Saturdays at 8 PM, Sundays at 2 PM. Tickets localjewell.com. Closes September 14.