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Gerald Carpenter: City College Takes Us to ‘Other Desert Cities’

The next production of the Santa Barbara City College Theatre Group's 2016-17 season will be Jon Robin Baitz's Other Desert Cities.

The performances which start on Wednesday, are directed by R. Michael Gros, with scenic and lighting design by Patricia L. Frank, costumes by Pamela Shaw, sound by Ben Crop, and starring Tom Hinshaw, Stephanie Katers, E. Bonnie Lewis, Meredith McMinn and Justin Stark.

We are in Palm Springs, at the home of Lyman and Polly Wyeth, a couple that bears more than a passing resemblance to the late President and Mrs, Ronald Reagan.

It is Christmas time, and the Wyeths await the arrival of their daughter, Brooke, who has been out of touch for six years, has become a writer, and has written a book that exhumes the one body the Wyeths want most to stay buried.

Brooke has come home, manuscript under her arm, to spend Christmas with her parents, her brother and her aunt — and her only plan is to announce to her assembled family that something smelling very bad is about to hit the fan.

"A writer," wrote Joan Didion, "is always selling somebody out." That's one way of looking at it. Another way is Graham Greene's dictum that "a writer's youth is his capital."

Clearly, Brooke wants something, and her wanting it drives the play.

Years ago, her radical, Weatherman-style older brother committed suicide, and this is the story that her book purports to tell. But does she want to honor her brother or dishonor her parents? Are these mutually exclusive goals? Will she achieve either by the kind of personal confrontation the obviously has in mind?

She might not be selling her dead brother out, but she is clearly exploiting his tragedy in ways that seem unlikely to exalt his memory and may even diminish it — which might, indeed, be her intention. While Brooke is certainly the play's protagonist and main character, it is not obvious whether she is the hero or villain of the piece.

This is a very good play, easy to watch, and it raises a number of interesting questions about both the current state of our society and of family dynamics.

It is too bad that Baitz felt it necessary to give it a sprinkle of Reagan pixie dust to keep our attention. It's like telling us we won't take any interest in a story that doesn't have at least one recognizable celebrity in it.

Other Desert Cities previews at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 12-13, then plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 14-29 at the Garvin Theater on SBCC's West Campus, 900 block of Cliff Drive. Parking is free and near the theater.

Tickets to the previews are: $18 general, $15 seniors, $10 students; to the Thursday evenings and Sunday matinees: $24 general, $19 seniors, $14 students; and for Friday and Saturday evenings $26 general, $21 seniors, $17 students.

For information or reservations, call the Garvin Box Office 965-5935, or buy tickets online at www.theatregroupsbcc.com.

— Gerald Carpenter is a Noozhawk Contributing Writer.

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