By Kayla Tucker – A&E/Features Editor
The tension of family gatherings on holidays lives on through the dramatic comedy “Other Desert Cities.” Over 100 people came out to the opening night of Actors’ Theatre’s last production for the 2014-15 season.
When Brooke Wyeth, the East Coast living, liberal, sarcastic daughter of Polly and Lyman Wyeth brings her family a manuscript of the memoir she wrote about her family and her late brother Henry’s suicide, she is not met with a great response.
The family dynamic is one that many can relate to. Republican parents isolated in Palm Springs avoid the traumas in their own family, and the children, mainly Brooke, have a hard time understanding them. Polly and Lyman play tennis and spend time at a country club and with book club friends that share the same conservative views as they do.
Harboring her recovering alcoholic sister Silda, Polly paves her way, refusing to show or deal with weakness in any way, with anyone close to her. Lyman tires himself worrying about Brooke, who spent years battling depression after losing Henry. Dealing with this depression, she pours her thoughts and opinions into a book, which reflects on how her parents shaped her brother’s life as a teenager, a soldier, and then the end of his life. Brooke argues that “it’s the last six years of (her) life on those pages and it’s for Henry.”
Trip, the younger brother who’s wit shows up in all the right places, can’t stand to be caught up in the middle of the conflict. Although being less dramatic than all the members of the family, he explodes at one point, explaining how he’s always lived in the shadows of his older brother.
Silda, Polly’s sister, is trying to cover her old mistakes, and jokes a lot about how a good drink could make the situation she’s in better.
The family picks at each other’s faults, but somehow the truth eventually comes out and it is truly a plot twist. Although the explanation is confusing at first, the outcome is worth thinking hard over and the story ends with a glimpse into the future, and almost all ends are tied, leaving the audience satisfied.
Jean Reed Bahle played Polly Wyeth and said that she didn’t really agree with the political and overall beliefs of her character.
“There’s a part of her that I very much identify with, that sort of getting children to wake up and take responsibility,” Bahle said. “I loved playing (her).”
Actors’ Theatre continues to bring the edge into the Grand Rapids theater scene. The acting was very engaging and emotional and the production was relatable to the audience, who burst into laughter at nearly every other line. Although the play is over two hours, not including a 15 minute intermission, it is worth the time spent in the seats.
“It was really, really helpful for us to have that responsive crowd,” Carrie McNulty said, who played the part of Brooke Wyeth. “It’s hard to go to those kind of emotional depths. It’s a risk, I think, as an actor. But with the five of us, and with Fred as our director, I felt safe and felt very comfortable doing it. We’re a true family up there. I feel like it’s challenging but worthwhile.”
Shows will continue to run May 15, 16, and 21 through 23 at Spectrum Theater, all beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets are $26-28 and $10 for students/seniors.