Last month, The Sherman Players staged a performance of Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz at The Sherman Playhouse in Connecticut. Under the direction of Katherine Almquist, the play tells the story of the Wyeth family as they reunite in Palm Springs, California, for the Christmas holidays where long buried secrets come to light and threaten their fragile dynamic. The performance featured a cast of five actors, two of whom reside in Pawling.
Other Desert Cities opens on Christmas Eve morning, 2004 at the home of Polly (Kit Colbourn) and Lyman Wyeth (Pawling’s Steve Schroko). Joining them are their adult children Brooke (Reesa Nestor) and Trip (Pawling resident John Squires). Trip works as a reality television producer, while Brooke has been away from the family in New York working on her anxiously anticipated second novel. Rounding out the cast is Polly’s sister, Silda Grauman (Eileen Epperson) who has recently completed a stint in rehab to treat her alcoholism.
At first, the holiday goes smoothly as the Wyeth family prepares for a Christmas Eve dinner at a country club and engage in playful banter. The mood takes a dark turn when Brooke reveals that her next book is not fiction, but rather a memoir detailing the painful events that led to her brother Henry’s suicide. Long buried hostilities quickly come to the surface, and the Wyeth family dynamic is shaken to the core as each member deals with the ramifications of what will happen when the memoir is published. Matters are complicated further when Brooke reveals that excerpts from the book will be published in a magazine the following month, meaning the family must decide immediately if the memoir should ever see the light of day.
The performance was set entirely in the Wyeths’ living room, and the minimal set design allowed all five actors to show the wide range of emotions that come with old wounds resurfacing. Kit Colbourn and Steve Schroko were magnificent as Polly and Lyman Wyeth, and the duo possessed an excellent dynamic not only as parents but as wounded and flawed individuals. As Trip, John Squires provided some perfectly timed moments of comic relief, but also one of the play’s most emotional moments as his playful and easy going demeanor begins to crack under the strain of the family squabble. Eileen Epperson rounded out the ensemble with an excellent performance as Aunt Silda, a woman struggling to fit into the family fabric while also battling her own demons. The minimal set and small cast made for an intimate and engaging performance. The cast expertly interacted on the stage, and the play gave a sobering look at loss, honesty, and the importance of family.
“I will say this has been a joy from start to finish to work with such professionals, both on the stage and behind the scenes,” said Director Katherine Almquist. “Assistant Director Agnes Fohn has the eye of an artist.” Almquist also had high praise for the two Pawling residents in the cast. “I worked with John in Dark of the Moon and immediately thought of him for the role of Trip. Meeting Steve was a treat. He is polished, a thorough gentleman. It was such a collaborative effort throughout.”
Steve Schroko and John Squires not only turned in deft performances, but they also thoroughly enjoyed performing at The Sherman Playhouse. “Right from the start, the whole rehearsal process and actual run surpassed all my expectations,” remarked Steve Schroko. “This is a quality theater, and I encourage all of us in the area to support their productions. They are a true cultural gift to the community.”
“Other Desert Cities was my second show there after starring in Dark of the Moon last fall,” added John Squires. “I just love the vibe there; it’s warm, supportive, collaborative, creative and filled with people who love what they do and are good at it – no divas. Working with Katherine was a dream, and I grew from my experience.”
For more information about The Sherman Players and upcoming performances at the Sherman Playhouse, please visit ShermanPlayers.org online.