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Theatre Raleigh’s “Other Desert Cities” Starts Strong, But Is Ultimately Unsatisfying

Theatre Raleigh's cast for "Other Desert Cities" includes (from left) Maggie Rasnick, Pamela Dunlap, Mark Phialas, Dana Marks, and Charlie Brady (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

Theatre Raleigh‘s cast for “Other Desert Cities” includes (from left) Maggie Rasnick, Pamela Dunlap, Mark Phialas, Dana Marks, and Charlie Brady (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)

One of the characters in Jon Robin Baltz’s play, “Other Desert Cities,” onstage now through Theatre Raleigh, sums his family, and perhaps all families, up nicely by saying that, “We all live with each other’s divergent truths.” That statement definitely applies in this tense drama centered on the Wyeth family, its secrets, and the pain and confusion those secrets have caused. Perhaps the most affected by the family’s dynamic is Brooke, quirkily and believably portrayed by Dana Marks. Brooke, who has found solace in New York City life, has returned to her family in the desert, bringing along a manuscript that shakes every member of her family to the core.

The manuscript contains a detailed account of her brother’s suicide and quickly pits her kindhearted father, Lyman (Mark Phialas), and her mother, Polly (Maggie Rasnick) against her. Viewers won’t find out till much later in the show why they are so vehemently against the book’s publication; their reasons come in a show-stopping twist near the end. Dana’s brother, Trip (Charlie Brady), is against the idea too, though his only real reason is to keep peace in the already-troubled family. The only one on Brooke’s side is her fumbling, alcoholic aunt, Silda, wobbily portrayed by Pamela Dunlap, whose feisty delivery adds some much-needed comedy to the dark subject matter.

The writer’s quick wit is evident through the fast-moving, punchy dialogue. To complement the quick dialogue, director Jesse Gephart has his actors moving all over the stage, giving life and motion to a play that might otherwise be too dialogue-dense. Most of the actors deliver their lines well, though Phialas does have some trouble with his character’s more emotional moments.

As the dramatic story and its startling climax play out on Chris Bernier’s elegantly designed living room set, viewers are drawn into the world of the family and all of its imperfections. Unfortunately, however, the ending does feel a bit rushed and incomplete, a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable play.

Theatre Raleigh presents OTHER DESERT CITIES at 8 p.m. June 25-27, 2 and 8 p.m. June 28, and 3 p.m. June 29 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $27 ($25 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).

BOX OFFICE: 866-811-4111 or

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-480-5166.

SHOW: and






NOTE: This play contains due to adult language, and is intended for mature audiences.


Other Desert Cities (2011 Off-Broadway play): (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.) and (Wikipedia).

The Script: (Google Books).

Study Guide: (The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN).

Jon Robin Baitz (Los Angeles, CA-born playwright and screenwiter): (New School for Drama bio) and (Wikipedia).

Jesse R. Gephart (Raleigh, NC director): (Facebook page).


Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click To read more of her writings, click and

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