Other Desert Cities

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The idea of “family time” is usually met with two responses: warm enthusiasm or massive dread. For the latter, arguments and differences are inevitable. US playwright Jon Robin Baitz (former contributor to The West Wing and Alias) hones in on this with his Pulitzer-nominated play Other Desert Cities.

The play, how showing at the MTC, centres around an American family with two grown kids visiting their parents for the holidays. Son Trip (Ian Meadows) and daughter Brooke (Sacha Horler) have diverged from their parents’ lifestyle and strayed from their staunch Republican upbringing. Brooke, a “lefty liberal” has just written a memoir and asks her family for their permission to publish it. Her recollection of events leads to an uncomfortable re-examination of the past and present for all of the family members.

On the play’s surface, Other Desert Cities’ conflict is based on the generational gap of political beliefs. Parents Polly (Robyn Nevin) and Lyman (John Gaden) rub elbows with Nixon and other influential Republicans while Brooke and Trip scoff at their parents’ beliefs, having chosen their own way to live.

Below the surface, there are deeper feelings. Brooke complains about the lifelong “indentured servitude of the family,” referring to a child’s obligation to his or her parents. Polly fires back, saying as a parent, one is expected to take care of one’s offspring, who will always remain children and need assistance. Feelings of obligation, guilt and concern exist for all family members.

At times the characters, although colourful, can feel one-noted. Polly is a strong, critical figure whose pride won’t let her show weakness. Ian Meadows really delivers as Trip, with a spot on American accent and the right balance of lighthearted candor. Although the characters mak e sense and are relatable, they don’t always challenge the audience.

Other Desert Cities, directed by Sam Strong, shines in witty dialogue and emotion. Family dynamics aren’t always easy and the fragility of them is well-illustrated.

Other Desert Cities is playing at until April 17. For more info and tickets visit mtc.com.au.

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