A secret in the desert
The cast of Apron Theater Co.’s “Other Desert Cities,” from left: Bridget McBride, Greg Lesch, Christopher Coutant, Michael Kennedy, and Diana Stugger.

A secret in the desert

Apron Theater Company starts a new season with a family drama, ‘Other Desert Cities’

PUTNEY — Karla Baldwin wants to tell everyone about the new play she is directing, Other Desert Cities.

But she finds it hard to describe.

Her reason is not that the play is too weird or complicated for words. In fact, the play is a fairly traditional drama.

“Rather, there is a huge secret that is revealed at the end of the drama that I do not want to reveal,” confesses Baldwin. “If I talk too much about the play, I am afraid I will give something away and ruin the effect.”

The Apron Theater Company at Next Stage Arts in Putney begins its 2016 season with the Southern Vermont premiere of Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz.

Other Desert Cities premiered Off-Broadway in January 2011 and transferred to Broadway in November 2011, marking the Broadway debut of a Baitz play. A finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for drama, Other Desert Cities involves a family with differing political views and a long-held family secret.

Ben Brantley, in his review of the Broadway production for The New York Times, wrote that the play (Off-Broadway) was “...the most thoroughly integrated and sustained work from Mr. Baitz, who had been regarded as a promising wunderkind for long past his sell-by date.”

The reviewer for The Hollywood Reporter says “the balance between comedy and intense family drama has been fine-tuned in richly satisfying ways."

Baldwin is willing to reveal this much about the drama she is directing: “Set in Palm Springs over Christmas weekend, Other Desert Cities centers on the powerful Wyeth family. Patriarch Lyman Wyeth (played by Michael Kennedy), an actor-turned-ambassador during the Reagan administration, and matriarch Polly (Christopher Coutant), a former screenwriter, are set to celebrate the holidays with their adult children.

“Without informing her parents, daughter Brooke Wyeth (Bridget McBride), a once-promising novelist, has written a memoir exposing painful family secrets. Her brother, Trip (Gregory Lesch), the creator of a hit TV reality series, tries to stay out of the crossfire as their alcoholic aunt, Polly's sister Silda (Diana Stugger), eggs Brooke on.

“In a series of confrontations, the Wyeths sift through conflicting memories of the past and face serious choices about how to go forward.”

Baldwin does not contend that Other Desert Cities is a political drama, except in the sense of the old feminist slogan that the personal is political. She confesses that the characters in Baitz's play in some ways are unfamiliar to her. But, in another way, she knows them very well.

“These people are not my family, but I understand what they are going through,“ says Baldwin. “In life, everyone has his or her secrets and desires. And when families get together they have all this history and complicated feeling. Like in the dramas of so many families, revelation is at the heart of the play.”

The production has one set and takes place all in one day, from eight in the morning until evening.

“It's another of those Long-Day's-Journey-into-Night kind of plays that I love,” says Baldwin. “Its setting in the desert also brings out the isolation the play explores.

Baldwin can't praise her cast enough.

“I have such a great group of actors,” she says “We're all old friends. I directed all these people before, so it feels like old home week. And they all, except for one person, have worked with each other before. Consequently, the chemistry of the cast is wonderful.”

Baldwin loves that Apron is Next Stage's resident theater company.

“It is a true collaboration and they gracefully and generously support our theater process and projects,” she says. “They are a remarkably kind and open group and one of Apron's happiest moments was when we were asked to create theater in their space.

“This March became a challenge, because we normally have not done a show in that time slot, but Next Stage made it possible for us to reschedule a show that had to be cancelled in August and we were extremely grateful. And we work with gifted production people, like David Ryan, Heather Taylor, and John Todd, who create elegant production elements to enhance the play's production.”

Apron will continue its 2016 season in July with the presentation at Next Stage of What Rhymes With America, by Melissa James Gibson, which will be directed by Hallie Flower. One of the most emotionally penetrating and unique voices in theater today, Gibson uses her spare style, mordant wit, and compassionate insight to write a poignant, funny play about estrangement and the partially examined life.

In August, Karla Baldwin will direct Eurydice by Sarah Ruh, who re-imagines the classic myth of Orpheus through the eyes of its heroine. Full of dark humor, lyrical beauty, and wit, Eurydice transforms a traditional myth into a visceral, contemporary meditation on love worth grieving for.

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