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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Pulitzer finalist 'Other Desert Cities' on stage in Vienna

Susan d. Garvey (on left), Kathy Ohlhaber, and Patrick David star in Other Desert Cities at Vienna Theatre Company/Photo by Matthew Randall

That Other Desert Cities was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2012 and won five Tony nominations is not surprising.  It's a critic's play.

Which demonstrates in living color that things are not what they seem, folks, even though you may think you know-it-all.

Sometimes a minor character can steal a show. 

Like Jessie Roberts who is Silda, the mother's half-crazed, alcoholic sister, with a personality amplified by her flyaway hair, apparel, and funny lines which bring much needed humor and balance to the somber tone and message heard all night.

What darkness lurks beyond? 

Other Desert Cities is a family affair with father (Patrick David) and mother (Susan d. Garvey) pitted (or so she thinks) against grown daughter, Brooke (Kathy Ohlhaber) whose brother Trip (Jeff McDermott) is along for the ride, to tell his sister just how self righteous she really is.

Their older brother, Henry, is dead, and the negative aftermath of his passing are borne by the survivors who blame each other.  They lash out with mean and heartless words, similar to what audience members may think about saying to their own family members from time to time (well, maybe, not quite so extreme), but refrain from uttering to preserve family peace, or what remains of it.  (That would not happen here, of course, since there would be no show!)

It's Christmastime at Polly and Lyman's, the parents, which adds even more stress to conditions, especially with the holiday arrival of their "me-me-me-me-me, it's all about me!" daughter. 

Would you be surprised to learn it doesn't take long for conflict to erupt? And that Polly and Lyman share conservative leanings which happen to be the opposite of Brooke's?  It's 2004 and the Iraq War is raging.  But, not too much is said about it.

From beginning to end, it's all about Brooke, and how she feels and is affected by the family's tragedy. Never mind offending anyone else.  Never mind considering that she's not the only one. What does that matter as long as her new book gets published that lays out the horrors of her brother's death and how her family deals with it?  "I'm as sorry I'm a writer as you are," she says.  Amen, sister.  She got no sympathy from me.

On this Christmas trip home, you'll observe no pauses, inactivity, or boredom. Just heartbreak and enlightenment about those you love.

The outstanding set (by Skip Gresko) is what's to be expected of wealthy landowners living in Palm Springs, California.  In their large Western-style house, the living room has a curving beige stone wall with fireplace (into which is tossed a marijuana cigarette that Silda covets) and big windows which look out on a splashy, orangy sunset which changes with the time of day, I suppose, but being hooked on the dialogue, I didn't notice.  (What does that say about the script?)

That the Washington, D.C. area is blessed with great actors is well known, and, under the direction of Rosemary Hartman, the Desert quintet is more proof.  Especially the performances by Ohlhaber, David, and Roberts who seem so natural in their roles, it's hard to imagine them off stage as anyone but Brooke, Lyman, and Silda. 

Vienna audiences always turn out for good shows. I've never attended a production here which did not appear to be a sellout.

With contemporary street talk, Other Desert Cities is not a production recommended for children. 

This will be the last of Vienna Theatre Company's productions for a while at the Community Center since the center's renovation will soon begin, but the theatre troupe will find other places to stage.  You can't keep a good company down. 

Other key Desert Cities crew members are:  Richard Durkin, producer; Gerald Kadonoff, assistant producer; Mary Ann Hall, stage manager; Tigan Hughes, assistant stage manager; Chris Hardy, lighting designer; Benjamin Allen, sound designer and composer; Susan Boyd, costume, hair, and makeup designer; Jocelyn Steiner and Mary Frances Dini, set dressers and props.

What:  Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz

When:  8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays on April 24 and 25 and May 1 and 2, with 2 p.m. Sunday matinees, April 26 and May 3.

Where: Vienna Theatre Company,120 Cherry Street, Vienna, VA 22180 (Vienna Community Center)

Tickets:  May be purchased online ( or at the box office.

Admission:  $14

Parking: Lots of free parking on-site

For more information: 703-255-6360 or visit the website

To read other local reviews of shows still on the stage, click Other Reviews on DCMetroTheaterArts.

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