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Review: Martha Plimpton and Sinead Cusack in Other Desert Cities, Old Vic Theatre


The Old Vic has transformed its auditorium to theatre in the round once again and it's a configuration that appeals mainly because you are closer to the stage and a lot of the stalls seating is properly raked.

Jon Robin Baitz's play, Other Desert Cities, is the first production to test the new stage and is a family drama of the skeleton in the closet type. Hollywood actress Martha Plimpton plays Brooke who has returned home to California for Christmas after a lengthy time away. She's just about to publish a book, a memoir in fact, that could prove explosive.

Parents Lyman (Peter Egan) and Polly (Sinead Cusack) were actors whose starry careers have long since faded leaving them with a stream of anecdotes and names to drop. Lyman has since gone into Republican politics.

Making up the family is brother Trip (Daniel Lapaine) who has disappointed his parents by using his top university law degree to host a TV courtroom show and alcoholic and destitute aunt Silda (Claire Higgins).

While the script crackles with one-liners and the performances are captivating this is one of those plays that serves up an immediate pleasure and entertainment but doesn't leave much of a mark. Many of the themes follow well worn paths - politics is of course a bone of contention and the source of much arguing and naturally the children disappoint their parents in their career and partner choices.

And the characters themselves don't feel like anything new - overbearing mother, supportive father, entertaining alcoholic aunt and sensible sibling (Trip). Baitz laces the story with a contemporary edge by making Brooke and Trip's dead brother Henry an anti-war protester. Henry's suicide pushed Brooke into a nervous breakdown and a spell in hospital being treated for depression.

There are some interesting ideas about the role and responsibility of writers and a Baitz also nicely toys with your loyalties as the truth is slowly revealed. Other Desert Cities is extremely well done and worth a look for the quality of the script and performances (loved Claire Higgins particularly) but will I remember it at the end of the year? Probably not. It runs at the Old Vic until May 24.



Adam James stood behind me at the bar and he was in The Pride with Mr W.