September 3, 2012
3 mins read

Gainesville’s Hippodrome Theatre opened its 40th season with Jon Robin Baitz’s New York hit play, ” Other Desert Cities,” which was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Originally, it opened Off-Broadway but was so well received and successful it transferred to the Booth Theatre and was equally successful. The cast featured some well known and respected actors, including Linda Lavin, Stockard Channing, and Stacy Keach.
The play begins with a family Christmas gathering in 2004 at the Wyeth home in Palm Springs, California, which is the setting for almost the entire play. Since the Hippodrome setting does not use a curtain, we had time to appreciate the many fine details of this living room, created by Mihai Ciupe. The set was filled with desert colors of cream, gray, and white, and included marble floors, columns, and a fire pit, along with a few pieces of furniture. Speaking of sets, EU has been reviewing plays here for over half of the Hipp’s forty years, and one of the trademarks of every production has been outstanding scenic design.
This is the home of Lyman Wyeth( Peter Thomasson) and Polly Wyeth (Sara Morsey). Polly’s recovering alcoholic sister, Silda (Lauren Caldwell) currently lives with them. On this Christmas Eve, their grown son Tripp (Matthew Lindsay), a successful television producer from Los Angeles, has joined them, and their daughter Brooke (Michelle Bellaver), a writer who has not lived up to her potential, has flown in from New York.
Lyman Wyeth was a very successful Hollywood actor who found even greater success when he left show business and became a Republican career politician. He served as the National Committee chair, and was appointed as an ambassador during the Reagan years. Polly, who had been a screenwriter, also retired to play the part of a political wife; Nancy Reagan was one of her best friends. They are still prominent GOP fundraisers.
After a few pleasantries staged to convince daughter Brooke to move to Palm Springs where she can be near her protective parents, we soon learn much more about the issues within the family.
The two generations have different agendas in their lives. Brooke was the author of a successful novel several ago, but due to reoccurring depression, has only recently completed another book. The story is a memoir, and the focus is the death of her older brother Henry several years ago. Henry was a troubled Vietnam protester, who became involved with a radical underground group, and committed suicide after being implicated in a bombing directed at military recruiters. Brooke lays the blame for his problems and his death on his treatment by his parents.
The parents are shocked and horrified and don’t want her to publish it or allow it to be serialized by the New Yorker. Brother Tripp feels for Brooke, and her insistence that she has an obligation to herself as a writer to publish the work, and but agrees that it would hurt the family name and prestige by drawing new attention to an old and painful tragedy. Silda, a political liberal with a sharp tongue, supports her niece, and even though she depends on the Wyeths for financial help, is still at odds with sister Polly as she has been for most of her life.
In Act II, some startling secrets emerge that keep audience members on the edge of their seats.
Tim Altmeyer makes his directing debut at the Hippodrome with “Other Desert Cities,” but is well known to the Hipp’s audience as an actor in several plays including “God of Carnage,” ” Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” and “Frozen.” He has directed several plays at the University of Florida. Altmeyer has a picture perfect cast for this production.
It is not often that one sees a play with five characters that are so interesting. Credit of course, goes to the wonderful literate writing playwright Baitz, who interjected a lot of humor, and razor sharp dialogue, especially in the first act.
Sara Morsey, who is in her twentieth season at the Hipp, is marvelous in the demanding role as Polly. Lauren Caldwell, another Hippodrome veteran, who did her first show in 1989, is striking as the outspoken Silda, adding a counterbalance to Polly’s polished persona. Ms. Caldwell is the Hippodrome’s Artistic Director when she is not on stage as an actress.
The Hippodrome is a professional Actors’ Equity Association theatre and is able to obtain the rights to many plays shortly after they complete their run in the New York area. We urge theatre goers and producers to visit Gainesville for excellent well -produced theatre that is often cutting-edge contemporary and always entertaining. Other Desert Cities is a very intelligent thought-provoking play and as we have pointed out, extremely well done. If you appreciate superb acting, you will certainly enjoy this production
The Hippodrome Theatre is in downtown Gainesville in a marvelously intimate space. There is usually free street parking, depending on which day you go; paid parking is just one block away. For additional information and reservations call (352) 375-4477 or visit www.thehipp org. You can also check them out on Facebook. .

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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