Arts & Culture

Review: "Other Desert Cities' at PCPA Theatre in Santa Maria

From left, Matt Koenig and Melinda Parrett star in ‘Other Desert Cities.’
From left, Matt Koenig and Melinda Parrett star in ‘Other Desert Cities.’

A devastating secret tears a family apart in the riveting drama “Other Desert Cities” at the PCPA Theatre in Santa Maria. Under the direction of Roger DeLaurier, this beautiful and captivating play brilliantly captures the true love and devotion between parents and their children.

Written by American playwright and screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz, “Other Desert Cities” opened Off Broadway in 2011 and moved to Broadway later that same year. In 2012, it was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (it was called a taut, witty drama) and it earned five Tony nominations.

“Other Desert Cities” takes place in the upper class Palm Springs home of the Wyeth family around Christmas time in 2004. Retired parents Lyman (Dan Kremer) and Polly (Jessica Powell) are staunch Republicans who enjoyed a stellar career in politics and entertainment. Liberal daughter Brooke (Melinda Parrett) is a middle-age writer visiting from Long Island, N.Y., and her easygoing brother, Trip (Matt Koenig), works in the television industry in Los Angeles. Adding to the family dynamics is recovering alcoholic Aunt Silda (Kitty Balay) who is being dutifully cared for by her sister, Polly.

The underlying tension between Brooke and her parents intensifies when she describes her tell-all memoir that is about to be published. The book details the tragic suicide of her older brother, Henry, who was involved with a radical group in the 1970s that bombed a draft center in protest of the Vietnam War. This horrible event caused Lyman and Polly to be ostracized from their high-powered friends including President and Nancy Reagan.

Brooke never truly recovered from the loss of her brother but has had some success as a novelist. After suffering from serious depression for many years, Brooke hopes to make a comeback with the memoir and is seeking her parents’ blessing.

Too young to remember the family tragedy, Trip tries to be the peacemaker while his parents plead with Brooke to stop the book, which threatens to reveal even deeper secrets.

“While there is a mystery element to the play that serves to keep the relationships unfolding and deepening, the core is really a family drama with a lot of humor,” says DeLaurier in the PCPA program.

Strong performances by the acting ensemble shine in this production of “Other Desert Cities.” These characters could have easily become stereotypical but the actors bring depth, insight and realism to their roles.

Parrett delicately portrays Brooke with an endearing balance of weakness and strength. Powell channels a “Nancy Reagan” likeness with superior conviction and grace. As the strong patriarch of the family, Kremer brings a genuine sensitivity and kindness to the fatherly role. With great sarcastic wit, Koenig commands attention as the lighthearted but serious younger brother. Balay is delightful as a recuperating drunk who provides comic relief and insightful wisdom.

Scenic designer Tim Hogan perfectly captures an upscale Palm Springs living room with retro 1960s turquoise furniture, convenient wet bar, and brick fireplace. The costumes by Robin Newell successfully complement the characters. Polly’s outfits are impeccable and perfect for outings to the posh Country Club. Trip’s costumes match his LA lifestyle. Aunt Silda wears colorful outfits to accentuate her colorful personality. Brooke is dressed in mostly gray and black to mirror her inner struggles.

Lighting designer is Jennifer “Z” Zornow, and sound designer is Andrew Mark Wilhelm. Ellen Beltramo is stage manager.

As an intimate portrait of parental love and sacrifice, “Other Desert Cities” is a moving testament to the power of family that will certainly tug at your heart.


1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday; 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; through Oct. 3

Marian Theatre, 800 South College Drive, Santa Maria

$29.50 - $39.50 with discounts for seniors and students

805-922-8313 or