Feature

Other Desert Cities

In Jon Robin Baitz’s new family drama, two “Reagan Republican” parents host a Christmas dinner with their liberal adult offspring.

Booth Theatre
New York

(212) 239-6200

***

Jon Robin Baitz’s new family drama is “the play we’ve been waiting for him to write,” said Linda Winer in Newsday. Two decades after he revealed in his early work an “eerily mature” grasp of intimate emotions, Baitz has turned his attention to a Palm Springs, Calif., household as two affluent, “Reagan Republican” parents host a Christmas dinner with their liberal adult offspring. If that setup creates certain expectations, Baitz quickly demolishes them. This is no polemic, but an “altogether gripping work that knows individual psychology as keenly as it understands the world around it.”

Any worries that the show might lose its momentum on its way to Broadway have proved unfounded, said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. The show’s otherwise lauded January premiere at Lincoln Center drew some criticism for assembling a hodgepodge of acting styles. This version “should silence those objections.” Stockard Channing delivers “quite possibly the performance of her career” as Polly, a retired screenwriter and the family matriarch. When confronted with the possibility that her daughter might publish a memoir about a family tragedy—a son’s suicide—Channing “delivers antagonistic quips in high style” while hinting of insecurity behind her “sleek” surface.” She’s “so good that you don’t even realize how good she is while you’re watching her.”

The show remains an ensemble drama at heart, said Scott Brown in New York. Rachel Griffiths highlights the vindictive side of Polly’s daughter, while Stacy Keach “lures us into the family’s notion of him” as a happy, benign father, until he turns that image on its head. As various secrets are revealed at the dinner table, “the bravura verbal contretemps this truth-letting spawns is nothing short of dazzling.” Yet the play’s triumph isn’t in the family’s capacity for deceiving one another, said Elysa Gardner in USA Today. It’s that we ultimately “find hope in their ability to communicate, however grudgingly or fitfully.”

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