Other Desert Cities

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Other Desert Cities
Other Desert Cities Broadway Playbill.jpg
Playbill Cover for the Original Broadway Production of Other Desert Cities
Written byJon Robin Baitz
Date premieredJanuary 13, 2011 (Off-Broadway)
November 3, 2011 (Broadway)
Place premieredMitzi E. Newhouse Theater
New York City
Original languageEnglish
SubjectFamily secrets
SettingPalm Springs, California

Other Desert Cities is a play by Jon Robin Baitz. The play premiered Off-Broadway in January 2011 and transferred to Broadway in November 2011, marking the Broadway debut of a Baitz play.[1] The play was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Other Desert Cities involves a family with differing political views and a long-held family secret.


The namesake of the play's title is the "other Desert Cities" freeway sign (center) along eastbound Interstate 10 near the Coachella Valley

The play's name refers to a control city guide sign on eastbound Interstate 10 in California, which indicates that the freeway is headed towards Indio, California, and "other Desert Cities" (that is, the rest of the Coachella Valley and onward towards Phoenix, Arizona).

The play's events occur around Christmas Eve 2004, when the family of Polly and Lyman Wyeth gather in Palm Springs, California. Their daughter Brooke Wyeth returns home after six years in New York writing magazine pieces. Polly's sister Silda is also visiting, out of a time spent in rehab. Polly and Lyman are Republicans, while Silda is a liberal who has fallen into alcoholism. The sisters co-wrote a series of MGM comedies in the 1960s, but have since become estranged chiefly due to Silda's resenting Polly for shifting social worldviews over time.

Brooke announces and presents to her family a memoir recounting a pivotal and tragic event in the family's history: the suicide of her late brother Henry, who had been involved with the radical underground subculture in Venice, and a horrific incident resulting from their advocacy.

During the course of the story, Brooke experiences bitter conflict between her yearning for independent understanding and reliance, and her parents' doting yet secretive motives towards her. During this, she also comes to terms with her family's sorrowing frustration in dealing with her post-divorce depressive episode, even years after Henry's disappearance. Nonetheless, after absorbing the family's perspectives, Brooke insists the memoir is vital for her continuing on in life, whether her family continues to embrace her or not.

In an act of submission from Lyman, he and Polly finally recount the specifics surrounding the recruitment center bombing Henry was implicated in, after years of personal clashes and rejection from both parents and son. Henry showed up disheveled, begging for help and insisting he was unaware of his friends' terrorism. When Lyman insisted Henry turn himself in nonetheless, another argument broke out and Lyman slapped him. Henry disappeared into the night, and wasn't found until three weeks later by Polly. She reveals that she made an interstate trip with Lyman and her son to the northern border, and the ferry he disappeared from. But Lyman painfully reveals they had also doctored Henry's suicide note themselves, and stuck it in his shoes with a tearful goodbye. With their darkest secret unearthed, Lyman and Polly come to terms with their grief, and give Brooke their consent for publishing.

Brooke, in the play's penultimate moment, launches all the pages of her memoir into the air in anguish, screaming of her internal suffering since Henry left her life, and trying to spare her parents the potential pain of her suicide despite her continual grief. Lyman embraces his daughter in remorse.

An epilogue reveals Brooke at her memoir's publishing...years after Polly and Lyman's passing, per their initial request. She recounts a memory of her brother, wondering when she will see him again.


The play was originally titled Love and Mercy.[2] The play was first presented at a staged reading at the Ojai Playwrights Conference, California, in August 2010.[3]

Other Desert Cities premiered Off-Broadway at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center Theater on January 13, 2011, in a limited engagement run, closing on February 27.[4] The production starred Stockard Channing as Polly Wyeth, Linda Lavin as Silda Grauman, Stacy Keach as Lyman Wyeth, Thomas Sadoski as Trip Wyeth and Elizabeth Marvel as Brooke Wyeth.[4] It was named Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play by the Outer Critics Circle.[5]

The play transferred to Broadway at the Booth Theatre on November 3, 2011. Judith Light replaced Lavin and Rachel Griffiths replaced Marvel. Both the Off-Broadway and Broadway production were directed by Baitz's former romantic partner Joe Mantello.[1] This production received five nominations for the 2012 Tony Awards, including for Best Play, Best Actress in a Play (Stockard Channing), Best Featured Actress in a Play (Judith Light), Best Scenic Design (John Lee Beatty), and Best Lighting Design (Kenneth Posner).[6] Judith Light won for Best Featured Actress in a Play.[7]

Other Desert Cities was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.[8]


Ben Brantley, in his review of the Broadway production for The New York Times, wrote that the play (Off-Broadway) was "...the most thoroughly integrated and sustained work from Mr. Baitz, who had been regarded as a promising wunderkind for long past his sell-by date." Brantley went on to write: "... directed with a masterly combination of shadow and shimmer by Joe Mantello, emerges as stronger, more sincere and more credible in its Broadway reincarnation. 'Cities' is now less of a showoff than it was, and its ensemble more of a piece. It has, in other words, settled comfortably into its own skin, which makes its characters’ discomfort all the more palpable."[9]

The reviewer for The Hollywood Reporter (of the Broadway production) noted that "When it premiered in January, Jon Robin Baitz’s first new play in six years, 'Other Desert Cities', was smart and entertaining. But in its move to Broadway, this domestic dustup has ripened significantly. It has acquired a riveting center in the raw performance of Rachel Griffiths, who makes a knockout New York stage debut. With discreet adjustments to the text and more penetrating characterizations all around from the sterling cast, the balance between comedy and intense family drama has been fine-tuned in richly satisfying ways."[10]


  1. ^ a b Hetrick, Adam. "A Conservative Christmas Heats Up in 'Other Desert Cities', Opening On Broadway Nov. 3" playbill.com, November 3, 2011
  2. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Mantello Will Direct Baitz's Other Desert Cities Off-Broadway". Playbill.com. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  3. ^ Gray, Margaret. "Jon Robin Baitz gets back to basics at Ojai Playwrights Conference" Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2010
  4. ^ a b Hetrick, Adam. "Past Haunts Republican Family in Jon Robin Baitz's 'Other Desert Cities', Opening Off-Broadway Jan. 13" playbill.com, January 13, 2011
  5. ^ "Lincoln Center Theater : Other Desert Cities". Lincoln Center Theater. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  6. ^ Gans, Andrew and Jones, Kenneth and Hetrick, Adam. 2012 Tony Awards Nominations Announced; 'Once' Earns 11 Nominations" playbill.com, May 1, 2012
  7. ^ Joe Dziemianowicz Tony Awards 2012: Judith Light among big winners for her role in 'Other Desert Cities' nydailynews.com, June 10, 2012
  8. ^ Rooney, David. "Pulitzer Prize Drama Surprise: 'Water by the Spoonful'" hollywoodreporter.com, April 16, 2012
  9. ^ Brantley, Ben. "Theater Review. Painful Family Secrets Laid Bare" The New York Times, November 3, 2011
  10. ^ Rooney, David. "'Other Desert Cities': Theater Review" The Hollywood Reporter, November 3, 2011

External links[edit]

Other Desert Cities at The Modern-Spokane|Portraits and Archive imagery by danscape