There may indeed be “Other Desert Cities,” as the title of Jon Robin Baitz’s scorching new play at the Mitzi Newhouse reminds us, but Palm Springs is the one to see. That’s where Baitz’s drama, meticulously directed by Joe Mantello, dazzles in the Yuletide blondness of John Lee Beatty’s monochromatic set, white Christmas tree to boot.
It’s home for the holidays, Southern California- style, where Polly (Stockard Channing ) and Lyman (Stacy Keach) just finished a Christmas Eve tennis game with their visiting children Brooke (Elizabeth Marvel) and Trip (Thomas Sadoski). We don’t see anyone’s forehand, but boy can they serve and volley verbally, as can Silda (Linda Lavin), Polly’s sister, who’s also staying with the family. Each is an ace with Baitz’s often acerbic, sometimes hilarious and always sharp dialogue.
Polly and Lyman, Republicans of the Reagan mold, had a third child, Henry — a scruffy anti-war activist during the Vietnam era. He got involved in a violent protest with deadly consequences, followed by his own suicide. Brooke, a depressive novelist, has shaken off her writer’s block by composing a memoir about her older brother. She wants to publish. Her parents are appalled, her aunt approving, her brother somewhere in between. Accusations fly, tempers flare and a revelation causes a seismic shift in the domestic landscape.