Ask everyone who attended a certain event for a description, and they’ll all describe it in a different way. Truth is mutable – everything we see, do and experience is filtered through us and comes out changed. It’s the same reason ten different eyewitnesses can give ten different statements of the same crime – they’re all telling what they know as their truth. This is even true in the closest groups, like families – and as we see in the fine production of Other Desert Cities currently in production at Schenectady Civic Theater, it can be compounded when not everyone has the whole story.
Brooke (Ellen Cribbs) has come home to California for Christmas to visit her family: parents Polly and Lyman (Pat Brady and Rick Reed), brother Trip (James Gavin) and aunt Silda (Patti Noble.) Brooke has just recently recovered from an extended depression so severe she was hospitalized. She comes bearing a bombshell: her newest book, a memoir about her older brother who died under mysterious circumstances. She wants her parents’ blessing before it goes to publication; they want nothing to do with it and want her to withdraw it, but won’t give her a straight answer as to why.
This is a strong group of actors, and you have no problem believing they’re a family unit – they seem to have that emotional bond that relations do. Brooke is a tough role, and Cribbs carries it off without a hitch; the highs and lows of the character are both completely believable. Polly’s role seems custom-fit for Brady – she has the bearing of the patrician matriarch and the cool, clipped tones to match. Everyone has known someone like Polly and has had to steel themselves before matching wits with them (and, more likely than not, losing that match.) Noble and Gavin add the comedy the show needs, but are more than capable of handling the few serious moments they’re given, and Reed is heartbreaking as Lyman, carrying a heavy burden and not being able to share it with those he loves most.
Robin MacDuffie’s set design is beautifully realistic – the home looks as if you could walk right in, and the patio overlooking the desert made for a beautiful final moment.
Director Jennifer Van Iderstyne has not only proven herself one of the stronger directors in the Capital District, but she has an excellent knack for show selection; the shows she directs tend to be strong, emotional pieces that aren’t well-known, allowing her to introduce them and their characters to the area and surprise the patrons with what unfolds. This show was no exception; I knew, going into Act II, that some sort of revelation was at hand, but had no idea what it was going to be, and was delighted that the show managed to surprise me as much as it did.
This is a well-written, well-acted and masterfully directed show that will leave you in tears; there’s not much more you can ask for in a night out at the theater.
“Other Desert Cities,” Schenectady Civic Players, 12 South Church Street, Schenectady; through March 25; $20; Run time: 2 hours, 10 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; (518) 382-2081; https://civicplayers.org/