Let's face it, while it's possible for them to be perfectly benign affairs, family Christmases are often fraught gatherings that dredge up past slights and traumas, rendering the hopes of 'everyone just getting along' an almost impossible task. Some family Christmases, however, are more fraught than others. Other Desert Cities, a slick production currently being staged at QPAC's Playhouse, by the Queensland Theatre Company, takes the traumatic family Christmas to a new level.
Set in Palm Springs in the not too distant past, Other Desert Cities is a meditation on dysfunctional family relationships and the impact that buried secrets can have over time. Originally produced by Lincoln Centre Theater in New York, in 2010, it has been produced here through a collaboration between Queensland Theatre Company and Western Australia's equivalent, the Black Swan State Theatre Company.
Queensland and Western Australia are probably pretty well-placed to re-interpret a play that is set on the West-Coast of America on the edge of the desert, and while initially the Australian-inflected American accents are a bit jarring, this soon subsides. With help from an utterly spectacular set we are transported to a Palm Springs modernist abode of the highest order—resplendent with glass walls, sunken living room, and open fire place to ward off the desert chill.
The entire play revolves around a small family unit with plenty of tension bubbling barely under the surface. Upper-class republicans Polly and Lyman Wyeth are parents to Brooke (an East-Coast, left-wing writer who suffers from severe depression and a pretty unlikable temperament) and Trip (an affable and unpretentious reality TV producer). Also in the mix is Aunt Silda, Polly's down-and-out alcoholic sister.
We are barely getting to know these characters when the bombshell is quickly dropped—Brooke has written a new book that is in fact a memoir revealing her skewed perspective on a dark family secret. Despite her family members' own emotions and reputations, Brooke feels entirely justified in publishing her account, and plans to do so very publically in a matter of months. The fall-out is, as you can imagine, pretty intense.
Other Desert Cities is an impressive production featuring some outstanding performances from consummate actors and plenty of skilfully written dialogue. It is an immersive piece of theatre that, thanks to its exceptionally high production values, often feels more like a film. While I found the final act to be a bit of a disappointment, it was overall an engaging and thoroughly believable and compelling portrayal of a family in crisis.
Other Desert Cities runs until September 1st. For ticketing information, head here.
Image credit: QPAC