It's not abnormal for a popular play to be staged by two or more theater companies, with mere months separating each production. It's less common for them to take place simultaneously.
So buzzed about is Jon Robin Baitz's edgy, brilliantly crafted Other Desert Cities that theater companies have been snapping up the rights to the comedy-drama as quickly as possible. Taking place at Christmas in Palm Springs, it's a no-brainer to stage the play in December, which explains the two side-by-side productions currently running at Sebastopol's Main Stage West and Rio Nido's Pegasus Theater.
As the wealthy Wyeth family gathers to celebrate Christmas, the aging GOP parents, Lyman and Polly (former Hollywood royalty and "friends of the Reagans"), are pitted in semi-friendly battle against their liberal adult kids, the mellow Trip (a television producer) and the psychologically frail Brooke, a blocked novelist. With the unveiling of Brooke's brand-new memoir, examining a deeply painful event in the family's past, the Wyeths quickly unravel, years of deception and carefully guarded secrets peeling away like wrapping on a present.
It's meaty, funny stuff, and the Main Stage West production does have a certain edge on Pegasus, superfueled by a perfectly balanced cast that includes some of the best and best-known actors in Sonoma County, giving some of the finest work of the year.
Directed with grit and grace by Beth Craven, and with flawless attention paid to pacing, the MSW production is like a master class in acting. As Polly and Lymen, Sheri Lee Miller and John Craven are superb, surrounded by excellent performances from Laura Jorgenson and the lesser known but solidly sensational Sam Coughlin and Sharia Pierce as Trip and Brooke.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★½
Though there may be less "star power" in the Pegasus production, director Jacquelyn Wells keeps the action of the story and the emotions of her cast luxuriously rich and real, with only a few ragged edges here and there. As Brooke and Trip, Saskia Baur and Lito Briano are likeably raw and honest, backed by deeply felt work from Terry Kolkey and Jana Molina. And as Polly, Sheila Lichirie is like a lethal electric fence, beaming with gentle menace until sparked into fury.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★