Friday, July 17, 2015

Truth sucks

Smokin’ hot drama at the Rep
by Christopher Key

Imagine, if you will, a Southern California family.  Mom and Dad are B-list movie stars who have retired to the desert to pursue conservative politics.  They have three kids, over-protected, over-privileged and, of course, over-rebellious.  One of the kids writes a tell-all memoir about her lost brother and all hell breaks loose.  Sound familiar?  Admit it, we always check out the headlines in those tabloids at the checkout counter.

Playwright Jon Robin Baitz takes us behind the scandal sheets to examine how this situation affects the people that make up this very recognizable family.  At first, you may feel, as I did, that these characters are flirting dangerously with caricature.  The fault, my friends, is not in the script or in the acting or in the stars.  The fault is in ourselves.  We have turned these people into caricatures because we think we know them so well.  Indeed, some of us have been these people, if only vicariously.

Other Desert Cities does what top-notch drama should do – make us uncomfortable.  Because we are the audience that creates (and destroys) celebrities at our whim.  It rarely occurs to us that there are real people with real feelings and real problems beneath all the glitz.  Life is not a reality show.

Director Lamby Hedge has recruited a stellar cast to tell not just A story, but THE story of what the media called The Generation Gap.  You may have been a parent, you may have been a child, you may have been both, but if you lived through the last half of the American Century, you lived it at some point.

Photo credit - Damian Vines

Barbara Deering is stronger than Nancy Reagan’s astrologer as the Hollywood Mom from Hell.  The Seattle actor takes passive-aggression into a whole new art form.  She’s originally from North Carolina and that lovely, soft accent shines through even though her character is supposedly from Texas.

Photo credit - Damian Vines

Her hubby, the actor-turned-GOP-ambassador, is played by Curt Simmons with passion and grace.  If you see him in The Last Romance, you’ll find it hard to believe that he’s playing two such diverse roles in one rep.  Versatility is one of the hallmarks of a superb actor.

Photo credit - Damian Vines

The kid who writes the explosive memoir is portrayed by another Seattle actor, Sascha Streckel.  Her performance will take your breath away as she battles her parents who want to delay, if not suppress, the book.  Like many Hollywood kids, she struggles valiantly to find her own voice and Streckel’s interpretation is pitch-perfect.

Photo credit - Damian Vines

Her sibling is the peacemaker in the family who finds himself unable to deal with an upheaval of this scope.  Rep newcomer Lucas T. McVey completely captures the desperation of a son who can no longer keep the lid on a secret that is tearing his family apart.

Photo credit - Damian Vines

Imogen Love plays the snarky, cynical, alcoholic aunt who secretly feeds inside info to the aspiring author.  She provides some of the much-needed comic relief that makes the drama that much more believable and damn near steals the show.

The only reason she doesn’t is because this is one of those rare ensemble performances in which every actor is the star and they all play so well together that they define synergy. 

The unseen sixth person is the older son, who wholeheartedly embraced the tune-in, turn-on and drop-out zeitgeist of the 1960s.  He got involved with some shady characters and was implicated in the bombing of an armed forces recruitment center.  That plays into the deep, dark secret that is now threatening to destroy the family.

MBT’s techies are always superb, but pay particular attention to the incidental music.  It’s smarmy, smooth-jazz interpretations of Christmas music and it’s absolutely perfect for a play set in the holiday season.

Smoke plays a vital role in this drama and the actors use herbal concoctions rather than tobacco or pot.  Fake cigs wouldn’t cut it, but sensitive noses should choose more distant seats.

The opening night audience gave the show a standing ovation and that means if you can only see one of the Rep shows, this is the one.  Other Desert Cities plays in repertory with The Last Romance and Jake’s Women at the Walton Theatre through August 9.  See the Mount Baker Theatre website for precise dates and times and to order tickets.  You can also call the box office at (360) 734-6080 and you’d better do it soon.

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