Other Desert Cities – reviews of UK premiere of hit US play

Mar 26, 2014

Sinead Cusack and Martha Plimpton star in funny, bruising drama about US politics and family secrets

Johan Persson

What you need to know
The first UK production of Broadway hit Other Desert Cities has opened at the Old Vic, London. The play by Jon Robin Baitz (creator of Brothers & Sisters and a regular writer on The West Wing) was shortlisted for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The story centres on a Hollywood family with differing political views who gather for Christmas in Palm Springs, California. Staunch Republicans Polly and Lyman Wyeth are shocked by their daughter Brooke's plan to publish a tell-all memoir dredging up uncomfortable family secrets.

Lindsay Posner directs a cast led by Sinead Cusack and Martha Plimpton. Runs until 24 May.

What the critics like
This laugh-out-loud funny but also bruising family drama springs surprises to the very end, says Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph. It's "a beautifully crafted and continually absorbing play that proves much richer than the hatchet job on American Republicans that it initially seems to be".

Anyone interested in understanding the ideological chasm in American politics should see Other Desert Cities, says Matthew Wolfson in Prospect. "Baitz's play does not seek to judge so much as to describe," and is a testament to drama's ability to liberate us from the limits of a single perspective.

Plimpton, making her West End debut, imbues her character Brooke with "a believable mixture of vulnerability and bull-headedness", says Veronica Lee on Arts Desk. But the evening belongs to Cusack, who is on cracking form as Polly and makes a monstrous character human, funny and affecting.

What they don't like
Despite a brilliant cast, "this comes across as a moderate play fancying itself as a great one", says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. Baitz offers plenty of smart, self-aware lines for his smart, self-aware characters but its difficult to care about them, and when the family's secret finally comes out, it's interesting but not devastating.       

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