By Barry Bassis
Jon Robin Baitz’s “Other Desert Cities” is one of those plays where a family gets together for a holiday or special occasion and ultimately terrible truths are revealed. The beginning is as sunny as the weather in Palm Springs, where the Wyeths live in luxury and their adult son and daughter visit their parents for Christmas. The father Lyman (Stacy Keach) is a former movie actor turned Republican party stalwart. The daughter, Brooke, a writer (Rachel Griffiths), suffered a mental breakdown but has a new autobiographical book dealing with her older brother’s suicide after blowing up a military recruiting station. Naturally, Lyman and his wife Polly (Stafford Channing), are not happy about publicizing a painful and embarrassing part of their past. The surviving younger brother, Trip (Justin Kirk), is a television producer of a Judge Judy type of courtroom television show. Also staying in the house is Polly’s sister, a recovering alcoholic (played by Judith Light). Under Joe Mantello’s assured direction, every cast member gets a chance to shine.
John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger” created a sensation when it opened at the Royal Court in 1956. The latest revival, produced by the Roundabout Theater and directed by Sam Gold, reveals that either the work is painfully dated or that may just be the impression left by this production. The claustrophobic effect of this kitchen-sink drama is enhanced by the fact that the actors remain at the front of the stage, where Jimmy Porter (Matthew Rhys) abuses his wife, Alison (Sarah Goldberg), roughhouses with his flatmate Cliff (Adam Driver) and then, after Alison leaves, her friend Helena (Charlotte Parry) replaces her in Jimmy’s bed and at his ironing board. It was hard to understand why these people put up with each other or why audiences should put up with them.
Githa Sowerby’s “Rutherford & Son,” was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1912. Critics marveled at the fact that such a powerful work was written by a young woman. In fact, the searing drama about the owner of a glassworks in northern England and the damage he wreaks up on his children was based on the author’s own family. The work is brought to grim life in the new production by the Mint Theater Company, directed by Richard Corley. Robert Hogan is believable as the tyrannical John Rutherford and two of the most compelling of the members of his household are his daughter in law, Mary (Allison McLemore) and his daughter Janet (Sara Surrey). The Mint’s revival is most welcome.
Margaret Edson’s “Wit” is the Pulitzer Prize winning play that is being revived by Manhattan Theatre Club. The central role of Vivian Bearing is brilliantly portrayed by Cynthia Nixon. Dr, Bearing, an expert on the poetry of John Donne, is dying of cancer and the script takes the audience through the stages of her disease and (failing) treatment. The tragedy is leavened by humor. The talented cast, under the direction of Lynn Meadow, includes Suzanne Bertish as Bearing’s academic mentor, and Greg Keller, Carra Patterson and Michael Countryman among others as members of the medical staff.
In his one-man show at the Public Theater, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” Mike Daisey, a self-proclaimed geek, sets forth his obsession with Apple products and his early hero worship of Steve Jobs. He then recounts his travels to Shenzhen, China, where most electronics goods (including Apple) are made. He bravely interviewed workers there and recounts the horrors that they (at personal risk) communicated to him. The show creates both laughter and tears.