Karen MacDonald, left and Anne Gottlieb are brilliant in “Other Desert Cities.” CREDIT: CRAIG BAILEY/PERSPECTIVEPHOTO Karen MacDonald, left and Anne Gottlieb are brilliant in “Other Desert Cities.”
CREDIT: CRAIG BAILEY/PERSPECTIVEPHOTO

“Other Desert Cities” is a refreshingly witty, heartfelt tale of familial dysfunction at Christmastime. Playwright Jon Robin Baitz reinvigorates the threadbare concept with intrigue and drama rather than sexual secrets or infidelity as the source of the family’s trouble.

Director Scott Edmiston finds a balance of love and hate for the SpeakEasy Stage Company’s uproariously funny, emotionally charged production.

At the center of this maelstrom of misguided affections are mother and adult daughter Polly and Brooke Wyeth, played brilliantly by Karen MacDonald and Anne Gottlieb, respectively. The back and forth of the duo’s exchange of thinly veiled, caustic barbs feels like a blistering game of passive-aggressive ping pong.

 

Initially you can’t help but root for Brooke against her infuriatingly conservative, well-heeled mother. But as the story unfolds, and Gottlieb, with masterful subtlety, reveals a multitude of unforeseen layers to Brooke’s personality, the bitchfest morphs into an emotional tug of war with the audience in the middle.

Though allegiances are shaken and lives may ultimately be shattered, it’s always clear that Brooke is Daddy’s girl in the eyes of her father (a stellar Munson Hicks). She also has her wildly eccentric, fresh out of rehab aunt (hilariously portrayed by Nancy E. Carroll) in her corner. Her brother (affably played by Christopher Smith) has allegiances to both women, but is the only one who maintains a safe, healthy distance from the family.

The point of contention is the way in which family members deal with the long ago suicide of eldest son. As the truth unfolds, the pain and anguish grows exponentially. But in the end, the family secret trumps all else.
“Other Desert Cities”
Through Feb. 9
Calderwood Pavilion
BCA 539 Tremont St., Boston
$25-$52, 617-933-8600
www.SpeakEasyStage.com

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