Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Other Desert Cities
The Town Players of New Canaan
Review by Zander Opper | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's review of The Moors and Zander's review of The Chosen

Nancy Sinacori, Larry D. Gabbard, Julie Thaxter-Gourlay, Maureen Cummings, and Will Jeffries
Photo by Kevin McNair
The Town Players of New Canaan are currently presenting a superb production of Jon Robin Baitz's Other Desert Cities at the Powerhouse Performing Arts Center in New Canaan, Connecticut. The excellent five member cast shines both individually and as an ensemble, and director Tom Butterworth has managed to elicit all the laughter and tears that are possible in this play. What's more, the show also looks great, with an inviting set designed by Robert Doran and attractive costume design by Gwen Bihl. Having seen the original Broadway production, I was concerned that the memory of how glorious that theatrical experience was would get in the way of enjoying this one. I needn't have worried. The Town Players of New Canaan gets just about everything right and this family drama is both gripping and deeply moving.

Something about this production that struck me more than ever is that Other Desert Cities is a true ensemble piece. All the characters play off each other and they are almost like chess pieces being precisely moved around throughout the show. The play takes place in Palm Springs, California, on Christmas Eve in 2004 at the home of Polly and Lyman Wyeth. Into this seemingly tranquil setting, all hell is about to be break loose, as Polly and Lyman's daughter Brooke has written a tell-all book about her parents and family that is about to be published. I hesitate to reveal any more details about the plot for fear of ruining the many surprises in this play.

As Polly Wyeth, Maureen Cummings seems slightly more fragile than Stockard Channing seemed in the Broadway production, but don't let that fool you. Cummings' Polly has quite a backbone and the actress's performance is extremely strong and multi-layered. As husband Lyman, the fine Will Jeffries is the rock of the family, though even he brings a range of shadings to the character, as well. Nancy Sinacori is a riot as Polly's alcoholic sister, Silda, the role that won Judith Light a Tony Award. Sinacori is able to elicit a number of big laughs as she provides a great deal of levity to this family drama.

As Polly and Lyman's son Trip, the grand Larry D. Gabbard can be quite funny, as well, though he has a serious side, too. In the pivotal role of Brooke, Julie Thaxter-Gourlay is quite wonderful. This is a tricky part to pull off, in the sense that she must endear herself to the audience, even as she is dropping a figurative bomb into her family's seemingly calm life. All in all, each member of this cast brings new facets to each character, even as they all stay true to the heart of Jon Robin Baitz's writing.

Director Tom Butterworth does great work in eliciting all of these memorable performances from his cast and he also makes this production of Other Desert Cities a completely separate experience from what it was on Broadway. It is quite an impressive achievement and completely worth a trip to the Powerhouse Performing Arts Center to see the wonders that The Town Players of New Canaan have brought to their presentation of Other Desert Cities.

Other Desert Cities continues performances at the Powerhouse Performing Arts Center in New Canaan, Connecticut, through February 20th, 2016. For tickets, please visit or call the box office at 203-966-7371.

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