First-world problem plays

Rachel Griffiths, left, stars with Stockard?Channing in “Other Desert Cities.” Find tickets at

Playwrights can’t seem to stay away from them this season: family dramas inside mansions filled with attractive, able-minded artists and academics. Now playing are “Stick Fly” and “Other Desert Cities,” which both exhibit plots that bank on our sympathy for the oh-so-relatable consequences of affluence. Let’s don our monocles and have a look:

‘Other Desert Cities’

A NYC writer returns to sunny Palm Springs for the holidays to tell her family about her new book — detailing their deeply troubled past, including the death of one son. As the nuclear family (plus an eccentric aunt played splendidly by Judith Light) banters about tennis, country clubs and what-will-people-think, its members gradually poke at each other’s vulnerabilities and versions of the truth until extreme secrets are revealed. Though taken to task in turn, the characters can seem egocentric at best and indecisive at worst. They lament the difficulty of maintaining appearances while embroiled in controversy. The political storyline makes this a worthwhile watch, and the acting is not to be missed.
Still, we would happily trade our problems for a six-figure book contract that might make mommy and daddy mad. Humility takes a surprising form when the writer (Rachel Griffiths) and her brother (Thomas Sadoski) argue who’s more depressed, with the latter offering a touching, self-effacing monologue.

‘Stick Fly’

Two brothers — a plastic surgeon (Mekhi Phifer) and a budding novelist (Dule Hill) — bring their girlfriends to the family’s summer home on Martha’s Vineyard. Everyone struggles to define their roles and earn approval. Meanwhile, hints are dropped like anvils that there may be more than meets the eye within these vaulted walls nonchalantly draped with collectible, rare artwork. Pithy references to science, sociology and literature are bandied as everyone fights to prove they’re smart. Granted, there’s a spin on this story — it’s African-Americans dealing with the stigma of upper-classism, a plight uncommon to the stage. The housekeeper (Condola Rashad) keeps it fresh — in more ways than one. In the end, some characters might not feel they are loved quite enough, but thankfully they have their status and success to keep them warm.


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