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Politics get personal in Other Desert Cities

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Many of you don't need cable to get Fox News. It's unavoidable, even for staunch liberals. All you have to do is show up for a family reunion or holiday—that, or friend certain relatives on Facebook.

Spare a thought, then, for Brooke Wyeth (Dana Marks), the daughter and increasingly unwelcome guest of Polly Wyeth (Maggie Rasnick). Polly is the implacable center of gravity in OTHER DESERT CITIES, Jon Robin Baitz's domestic and political drama.

Ever since Polly, a golden-age Hollywood screenwriter turned GOP bigwig, was put out to pasture (along with her film star/ambassador husband, Lyman) in the changing of the guard after the election of George W. Bush, her sphere of influence has dramatically shrunk.

Where operatives and reporters once dreaded her phone calls, now only her children do. Instead of ostensibly protecting the free world's highest values, all that's left to guard is the family reputation—or what's left of it after Polly's son, Henry, was killed while taking part in an anti-government bombing in the 1970s.

So when Brooke brings a most unwanted present on her first Christmas home in years—the manuscript of a tell-all memoir—an epic confrontation results.

Those who savored Theatre Raleigh's 2012 production of August: Osage County will find in Rasnick's Polly a similarly venomous matriarch with an unerring aim for the jugular. Though Polly quotes Ronald Reagan, her politics and interpersonal skills recall the paranoia, brinksmanship and petty vengeance of Richard Nixon. As she remorselessly tries to dismantle a daughter recently hospitalized for depression, we're clearly in the presence of a woman for whom politics remains a game without frontiers.

Under Jesse Gephart's direction, Marks scores as a strong, convincing Brooke, while Pamela Dunlap offers rich support as Polly's sister, Silda. A vague Mark Phialas explored husband Lyman, but Charlie Brady was solid as Brooke's brother, Trip.

Though the confessions in the endgame seemed too rehearsed, Baitz's barbed discourse discloses what remains when political ideology becomes the most important family value.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Family values"

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