This comparison may at first seem like a stretch, but bear with me. Seeing Other Desert Cities again in a fine new production directed by R. Michael Gros for the Theatre Group at Santa Barbara City College, I was struck by a previously unremarked resemblance to J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye. In that notoriously popular adolescent coming-of-age classic, Holden suffers from sibling grief at the loss of his older brother, Allie. In Other Desert Cities, it’s Brooke (Stephanie Katers) who struggles with the loss of her older brother, Henry. In both stories, there’s a trauma that’s caused by the death of an exemplary older sibling that then becomes the source of a profound sense of mistrust, particularly toward the “phoniness” of the previous generation. This generation gap at once reflects the outward disconnection between children and their parents caused by changing social mores, and a personal agenda that’s driven by the loss of a specific individual. As a narrative device, sibling grief works well, offering a protagonist with both a strong sense of righteousness and a significant blind spot about the source of his or her anger.
The male leads — Tom Hinshaw as patriarch Lyman Wyeth and Justin Stark as baby brother Trip — excel, but it’s the women who own this complex world of secrets, unspoken animosity, and unresolved issues. Katers is a game Brooke, and E. Bonnie Lewis gets some great laughs out of the sister Silda role. However, the night belongs to Meredith McMinn, who struts and preens as the misunderstood harridan Polly. See Other Desert Cities for this fine performance, and for Pat Frank’s magnificent Palm Springs set.