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Theater Review: 'Other Desert Cities' -- 3.5 stars

Judith Light, left, and Rachel Griffiths in "Other

Judith Light, left, and Rachel Griffiths in "Other Desert Cities." (Joan Marcus) Credit: Judith Light, left, and Rachel Griffiths in "Other Desert Cities." (Joan Marcus)

Other Desert Cities
3.5 stars

It's pretty ironic that Jon Robin Baitz's new play, "Other Desert Cities," has finally made it to Broadway.

It was originally supposed to premiere on Broadway, but Baitz, seeking less pressure, opted to have Lincoln Center Theater do it Off-Broadway instead. Following stellar reviews last winter, a move to Broadway was all but inevitable.

Although Baitz and director Joe Mantello received much praise, the Off-Broadway staging had an unbelievable and unbeatable ensemble cast including Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach, Thomas Sadoski, Elizabeth Marvel and Linda Lavin.

For the Broadway run, Marvel and Lavin have been replaced by Rachel Griffiths (best known for the TV series "Brothers & Sisters") and Judith Light ("Who's the Boss?"), respectively.

The play is set in 2004, in the posh Palm Springs home of a former screenwriter (Channing) and B-movie actor (Keach), both with strong ties to the Republican Party. Then their daughter Brooke (Griffiths) comes home for Christmas with the startling news that she is about to publish a memoir about her late brother, who ended his days as a terrorist and murderer.

Observing the sparring between Brooke and her parents are her recovering alcoholic aunt (Light) and apolitical, far more peaceful brother (Sadoski).

At first glance, "Other Desert Cities" doesn't seem all that different from numerous other family dramas in which tensions mount and secrets inevitably spill. But it is distinguished by the depth and complexity of each and every character, as well as the play's seamless structure.

Channing's and Keach's performances are particularly heartbreaking. Both begin the play in a very comfortable mood, with Keach reminiscing about his glory days in Hollywood and Channing bragging about her friendship with Nancy Reagan. But once Brooke breaks the mood, they are forced to confront their past in what resembles a most painful trial.

Under Mantello's directional finesse, this exceptional five-member cast turns Baitz's blueprint of family squabbling into a portrait of regret and denial that is as witty and entertaining as it is emotionally cathartic.

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