Television’s “The West Wing” was beloved for its witty and swiftly flowing dialogue — dialogue that sounds natural, but that few people can come up with on the fly.
“Other Desert Cities,” opening Friday (July 8) at Olympia Little Theatre, has that same appeal, said Toni Holm, a word lover and the show’s director.
“It’s the kind of things people would say if they were all smart and clever,” she said. “That’s one of the things I loved about ‘The West Wing.’ It was all people saying things you wish you’d thought of — and you would have if you had a screenwriter.”
The resemblance isn’t accidental. Playwright Jon Robin Baitz wrote for the long-running NBC show that won 26 Emmy awards.
“Other Desert Cities” has earned plenty of recognition on its own, including a Tony Award and four other Tony nominations. It was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and critics loved it.
“Built with gleaming dialogue, tantalizing hints of a dangerous mystery and a structural care that brings to mind the heyday of Lillian Hellman, ‘Cities’ has the appeal of a Broadway hit from another age,” The New York Times’ Ben Brantley wrote in a 2011 review of the play’s Broadway premiere.
The show has much to say about politics and is at least as much about relationships.
The play, set in 2004, concerns a wealthy family coming together at Christmas in Palm Springs, California.
Lyman Wyeth (actor-director Jim Patrick) is an actor-turned-Republican politician. “He’s modeled after the John Waynes and Ronald Reagans of the world,” Holm said.
Everyone who auditioned and everyone who’s working on the play has said, ‘Oh, my mother has said that to me,’ or ‘Oh, I’ve said that to my mother.’ There are many lines that you have heard or said.
Toni Holm, director
He and conservative, controlling wife Polly (Toni Murray, another actor-director) are at odds with their liberal adult children — writer Brooke (Silva Goetz) and Trip (Cameron Waters). Silda (Bonnie Vandver) is Polly’s sister, a former writing partner and a recovering alcoholic.
Brooke has returned home after a six-year absence and announces that she’s written a memoir that reveals a family secret.
This makes for lots of drama and even more witty repartee, verbal sparring that, as Brantley put it, is “balanced on a razor’s edge of affection and aggression.”
At one point, the unsympathetic Polly said, “The only way to get someone not to be invalid is not to treat them as such.”
“There it is, folks, the entire GOP platform in a nutshell,” Silda replies.
Then there’s the title, which makes reference to a sign on eastbound Interstate 10 in California, which indicates the freeway is headed to Indio and “other desert cities” of the Coachella Valley.
“I’m so tempted just to go on to other desert cities,” Brooke said.
Though this wealthy, well-spoken clan of actors and writers is most likely nothing like the family next door, Holm, the director, expects audiences to relate to much of the goings-on.
“Everyone who auditioned and everyone who’s working on the play has said, ‘Oh, my mother has said that to me,’ or ‘Oh, I’ve said that to my mother,’ ” Holm said. “There are many lines that you have heard or said.”
“Other Desert Cities”
What: Olympia Little Theatre presents a Pulitzer-nominated drama about a political family bantering, jousting and coping with the revelation of a long-held family secret.
When: 7:55 p.m. Friday (July 8) and Saturday, plus Thursday-July 16 and 21-23, and 1:55 p.m. July 17 and 24.
Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia.
Tickets: $11-$15 at Yenney Music or olympialittletheatre.org.
Information: 360-786-9484, olympialittletheatre.org.