A daughter returns to her parents’ home for Christmas and reveals she is about to write a memoir — a bit of unwelcome news that further strains already tense relations among her relatives, both liberal and conservative. As Jackson Gay, director of the Alley Theatre production of Other Desert Cities, explains it, playwright Jon Robin Baitz has put together a really good dysfunctionalfamily drama set in 2004 that is funny and also an activist kind of play about politics. The parents are old school conservatives whose best friends are Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Daughter Brooke (Alley company member Elizabeth Bunch) is a liberal Democrat, and her aunt is “a raging oldschool liberal Democrat,” Gay says. Her brother is the one person who’s mostly apolitical, and he refuses to enter into any of the family’s fights. All is complicated and affected by the earlier suicide of another brother, an antiwar activist, and the family decisions that immediately followed his death, including the parents’ move to Palm Springs in a sort of self-exile, Gay says.
“This play shows the love that can exist in a family, and also the hurt.” Attendees expecting a stereotypical sendup of conservatives or liberals will be surprised, says Gay, adding that there is a plot twist at the end that will leave you questioning your previous assumptions.
The scenic design by Takeshi promises to reinforce the desert isolation (the title of the play comes from a highway sign reading “other desert cities” next to a sign indicating Palm Springs). Richard Bekins appears as patriarch Lyman Wyeth, returning to the Alley after a 25 year absence, and Linda Thorson as Aunt Polly checks in after being gone for more than three decades.
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7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through February 2. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713‑220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $26 to $80.
Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. Starts: Jan. 10. Continues through Feb. 2, 2014