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Review: ‘Other Desert Cities’ shows family pushed to its brink

J.J. Jackson, left, Krystal Smith Sanchez and Angel Suitt in a scene from "Other Desert Cities," at Beaumont Community Players. Courtesy photo
J.J. Jackson, left, Krystal Smith Sanchez and Angel Suitt in a scene from "Other Desert Cities," at Beaumont Community Players. Courtesy photo

Jon Robin Baitz’s “Other Desert Cities,” tells the story of the Wyeth family who decide to celebrate Christmas together in Palm Springs, California, after their daughter’s six- year absence. Brooke Wyeth announces that in her time away, she has written and a soon-to-be published memoir about their family and a tragic event from the family’s past — something no one else wants to relive. In effect, she draws a line, daring them to cross it. What happens is sure to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

Beaumont Community Players’ production of ‘Other Desert Cities’ is a mystery timed to perfection.

“What happens when our perceptions about a life-altering event are challenged, as an individual or as a nation,” director John Manfredi writes in the program. “How far will we go to hold onto our version of ‘history’?”

The play takes place on a single day, Christmas Eve, 2004, in the wake of 9/11 and the Iraq War.

The cast is led by Krystal Smith Sanchez, who portrays the rebellious Brooke, who moved to the East Coast and developed liberal political beliefs to oppose her Conservative-minded parents, Polly and Lyman, played by Angel Suitt and James Jackson, even though she still seeks their approval. Brooke is anxious about revealing her memoir about the suicide of her older brother, Henry, who was involved in the anti-war bombing of a draft board during the Vietnam War and brought shame to his parents.

Throughout Christmas Eve Day, Brooke fights with her parents, ruminates with her chill younger brother, Trip, played by Donny Avery, and receives support from her recovering alcoholic aunt, Silda, played by Rachel Cain. 

When the news of the memoir is revealed, all hell breaks loose, and the parents must decide whether to reveal the family’s darkest hidden secret or risk exposure to the world — learning the secret is worth the price of admission.

The play is well-balanced with humor and drama. All of the actors work well together, but the performances of the feuding sisters by Cain and Suitt stand out.

The set is a simple layout of a living room and the play is performed “in-the-round,” where the audience surrounds the set. Manfredi encouraged us to switch seats during intermission to impact our perspective. I enjoy “in-the-round” performances, as it allows for a sense of intimacy and the audience feels part of the play. 

The play premiered off-Broadway in January 2011 and transferred to Broadway in November the same year. The play was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

“Other Desert Cities” has been called a political play, but while politics is certainly a source of tension for the Wyeths, the play is really a play about family. We can all identify with the different characters, and all families have secrets, whether we want to admit it or not.

‘Other Desert Cities’ continues with performances Nov. 4, 5, 6 at 7:30 p.m.

BCP is located at the Betty Greenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 4155 laurel Ave. in Beaumont.

For tickets, visit

Category: Features