Because we all have those relatives…
By Dana Hammer
Like many of you, I traveled to visit family for the holidays. My husband, my daughter, and I flew to Tennessee to see my husband’s brother and new wife. I had never met the new wife before and was excited to get to know her. I was not disappointed when I arrived at their house and sat down to talk to her. She seemed to be a genuinely nice person who loved children and Christmas.
During our talk, I asked what sorts of things there were to do in their small town. She mentioned a few things, including a Chick-Fil-A.
“We don’t eat at Chick-Fil-A because they’re mean to gay people,” said my ten-year-old daughter, with all the liberal pride of a girl raised by secular parents in Southern California.
“That’s right,” I agreed, similarly proud.
“My daughter works at Chick-Fil-A,” said the new wife.
There was silence. The kind of silence that comes when well-meaning people accidentally offend each other. I apologized, and the moment passed, but it was awkward, and I’m still cringing over it a little.
The thing is, we all have these types of moments in our families. Liberals and conservatives, Christians and atheists, Lakers fans and Celtics fans — whenever you bring people together who are bound by blood, not choice, you’re going to have some differences of opinion, and sometimes those differences can get ugly.
Which brings us to “Other Desert Cities.” This play, written by Jon Robin Baitz, is about a liberal East Coast writer named Brooke, who returns to visit her conservative parents in Palm Springs. She is writing a memoir about her brother Henry, who participated in an anti-Vietnam War bombing of an army recruitment center, in which a staff member was killed. Brooke is anxious about her parents finding out about the memoir.
And, predictably, when the parents do find out about Brooke’s plans, they disapprove. They do not want her to bring up all of this unpleasantness; they do not want to discuss Henry. As the play progresses, we discover that the parents have reasons that they do not want Brooke to write this book — reasons that have nothing to do with simple embarrassment or shame. Because Brooke’s parents have a secret — a secret that they have kept for many years, which they cannot have Brooke uncovering.
It’s exactly the type of digging-up-old-resentments-and-uncovering-family-secrets drama that makes for a riveting story. Producer Andrew Kelley agrees that this is going to be a fantastic production that audiences will love. According to Kelley, “When we were throwing around shows to possibly do for this season, we were looking for something that was somewhat newer, with some meat on its bones. ‘Other Desert Cities’ was so well written it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize when it appeared on the scene in 2011. It had a great run on Broadway with some very notable names stepping into these characters. We felt, as a board, the show is both complex and yet relatable. It’s definitely one that will get you thinking about and talking about. We felt, unanimously, that our patrons would thoroughly enjoy it.”
We all have family members with whom we disagree on various subjects. Anyone who has experienced the awkward silences, or the angry shouts, or the drunken diatribes, or the sullen glares can tell you that these disagreements are never fun. But, in the best families, we can transcend these disagreements and find a way forward. Because we don’t always know the motivations behind a mother’s disapproval, and we don’t always understand the roots of a child’s rebellion, and we don’t always know that a new family member works at Chick-Fil-A.
In “Other Desert Cities,” we have all the ingredients for an explosive family gathering — disapproving parents, conflicting politics, alcohol, buried secrets, old resentments, and trauma. Will this family be able to transcend all this and find a way forward? Come find out at Newport Theatre Arts Center.
Other Desert Cities is directed by Carl daSilva and features the talents of Jeff Paul, Lindia Sutera, Kendall Sinclair, Ben Green and Alli Maier.
Dana Hammer is the author of “The Cannibal’s Guide to Fasting” and “My Best Friend Athena,” and a variety of stage plays, screenplays, and short stories that have been published and performed in all kinds of places. She means well.
“Other Desert Cities”
Newport Theatre Arts Center
2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach, CA
January 19 - February 11, 2024
(949) 631-0288, ntactickets.com