“Other Desert Cities” Still Rings with Relevancy

January 26, 2018

L-R Shannon Samson & Jeremy Tuterow – Courtesy of Carmel Community Players. Used by permission.

For purposes of transparency, I need to reveal that I first saw “Other Desert Cities,” a dark comedy by Jon Robin Baitz, in 2014 at Indiana Repertory Theatre. When I saw the Carmel Community Players production of this play at a preview performance on Thursday, I strove not to compare the two. Still, it was nearly impossible to completely block memories of the former production, which featured first-rate direction, acting and production values. Nevertheless, CCP, a volunteer community theatre, which is avocational and with fewer resources than its professional counterpart, deserves credit for its ambitiousness.

Given the political polarization happening in our country these days, even causing bitter rifts in families, “Other Desert Cities” remains timely. The play opens with the return of writer Brooke Wyeth (Shannon Samson) to her wealthy conservative parents’ home in Palm Springs at Christmas in 2004. A New York resident, she has been in constant rebellion against her father Lyman (Ronn Johnstone), a former Republican ambassador and mother Polly (Vickie Cornelius Phipps), a rigid perfectionist, but continues to seek their approval. Brooke has written a memoir about her beloved older brother Henry. He was involved in an anti-war bombing of an army recruiting station during the Vietnam War and brought shame upon her unforgiving parents. Over Christmas Eve, she debates with her politically opposite parents, reminisces with her endearing younger brother (Jeremy Tuterow) and reconnects with her meddling, recovering alcoholic Aunt Silda (Miki Mathioudakis), whose credibility is questionable. When the news of Brooke’s book is announced, Polly and Lyman have to decide whether they’ll share a shocking family secret or risk exposure when the public learns of it through their daughter’s story.

L-R Miki Mathioudakis & Vickie Cornelius Phipps – Courtesy of Carmel Community Players. Used by permission.

Directed by Jim LaMonte, members of this CCP cast, despite occasional line flubs by some, turned in believable performances. Standing out were veterans Phipps as the unbending Polly and Mathioudakis as flamboyant but broken Silda. Johnstone was impressive as Brooke’s measured, loving father Lyman. Samson, executed her emotionally demanding role as the bright, confrontational, reactive Brooke, with aplomb (In the interest of full disclosure, Samson  works with Klein & Alvarez Productions and is a friend). Lastly, Tuterow, gave a convincing performance as Brooke’s happy-go-lucky, TV producer brother Trip.

During intermission at the preview, mostly attended by residents of area senior facilities, I overheard an individual complaining about the language of the play’s F-bomb-saturated dialogue, so be forewarned. Otherwise, this family drama, with its themes of war, political division, depression, addiction, memory and complicity is stimulating and worth experiencing for its sharp commentary that still resonates with the times.

For tickets to “Other Desert Cities” call (317) 815-9387 or visit carmelplayers.org. The production runs through Feb. 11. at the Carmel Community Players Playhouse located at 14299 Clay Terrace Boulevard, Carmel, IN 46032.

photo: Julie Curry

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and Examiner.com, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Indy Style, and is a creative arts reporter for Reel Life TV, an entertainment show also broadcast on WISH-TV.

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

On the Aisle Team

  • Creation, content, and publishing: Tom Alvarez
  • Copy editing: Shannon Samson
  • Graphic design: Anthony Lowe
  • Web development: Clay Mabbitt

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