Smokehouse Players find Christmas complicated in ‘Other Desert Cities’

Smokehouse Players find Christmas complicated in ‘Other Desert Cities’

“Other Desert Cities” by Jon Robin Baitz was originally titled “Love and Mercy,” and you’ll find both in the script, according to Smokehouse Players founders Terry Vaughan and Tim Gilster. The drama, on stage Nov. 9-11 in Fayetteville, promises to be sometimes hilarious, sometimes mysterious, often poignant and thought provoking from beginning to end. Vaughan says everything the audience thinks at the beginning will be turned upside at least once as secrets are revealed in a family “whose history has been based entirely on lies.”

Unlike their recent production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” “Other Desert Cities” won’t leave audiences pushed to the back of their seats by the vitriol but instead will have them leaning forward, anticipating what’s next, Vaughan adds.

“It’s not a brawl; it’s calculated, strategic — and quieter.”

Known regionally for thriller films like “Door in the Woods,” Chase Goforth is directing “Other Desert Cities” as his first stage play, and he says it’s a joy.

“In film you sculpt the final product, including performances, in the editing room,” he explains. “Rehearsal time is rare. It’s all about getting different options in a number of takes so you can find just the right seconds of footage to craft a scene.

“Our rehearsal schedule on this show has been an embarrassment of riches,” he goes on. “It’s so different and rewarding to discover the characters and performances in collaboration with the actors over weeks and weeks. There’s plenty of room to experiment and play.

“This show is about a series of moments, more like a film than most other plays,” he says, and working in the Ozark Mountain Smokehouse, “you really feel like you are in the living room with these characters as the tension ratchets up.”

The question is often asked whether Baitz’s play, a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is a family drama or a political drama. The Wyeths — Polly and Lyman — have been high-profile Republicans on the order of Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Their visiting children — Brooke and Trip — are both politically estranged from their parents, and Brooke is about to create an even deeper personal rift when she announces she’s writing a tell-all memoir focused on the suicide of the third Wyeth sibling, Henry.

“The chaos that follows takes the audience on a crazy roller coaster ride of assumptions and judgments, but circumstances are not always what they seem,” Vaughan says.

Vaughan plays Polly, and Gilster — her husband — plays Lyman.

“I love playing complicated women, and I have known a lot of them,” Vaughan says of her character. “I love Polly, but I can totally understand the fear she instills and why her motivations can be misunderstood. She is very supportive as long as you are doing exactly what she wants.”

Juliette Robinson, who played Honey in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” says her character, Brooke, is “creative, courageous, and strong” but also “strong-headed, self-sabotaging, and prone to despair.”

“It took me a while to understand her motivations for writing her book and her naivete, but I truly understand her now as someone who feels and loves deeply,” she says. “At its core, this is a story about the many ways we handle grief. It also questions the roles within a family and where our loyalties lie.”

Sam Ownbey makes his debut with Smokehouse Players as Trip, the Wyeths’ surviving son.

“He seems simple enough — funny, happy, carefree, successful — but there’s so much more going on underneath,” he says. “Trip tends to use humor to deflect confrontation. He likes to look confident and put together, but there’s something very fragile in him. I find him so relatable, and, if I’m doing my job right, I think the audience will too.”

Rounding out the cast is Amy Eversole as Silda, Polly’s sister, who is “a free spirit who ended up in a cycle of addiction she can’t seem to break. She’s impulsive and plunges full throttle down a chosen path regardless of the consequences she (or anyone else) may suffer later.”

Everyone involved in the show agrees playgoers should have a lot to say to each other after the final curtain.

“I think this will stick with folks for a while,” says Goforth. “The show stirs the pot on politics, family relationships, addiction, and the consequences of deception.”



‘Other Desert Cities’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9-11; doors open at 6:30 p.m.; no reserved seating

WHERE — Ozark Mountain Smokehouse, 1725 S. Smokehouse Trail in Fayetteville

COST — By donation; money raised Nov. 9 benefits Magdalene Serenity House

INFO — Email

Categories: Theater