Sometimes you see a play and you are moved by the writing or the creativity of the story. Sometimes, you are moved by a performance. And once in a great while, you are moved by both.
I was literally sobbing in the theatre on Sunday afternoon as The Human Race presented OTHER DESERT CITIES. I saw the play last year at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati and enjoyed it and remember being moved by the story as it slowly unfolded and revealed the family secrets that the Wyeth family had been keeping from the world – and each other.
But this time it wasn’t the story. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I certainly relate to being part of a family with secrets and an image to protect. I understand how hard it must be to manage your life when you are a public figure and have the usual family drama that comes down the pike for everyone, us normal people included. And I absolutely understand how mental illness impacts families and individuals. This well written piece explores all of this with humor and authenticity.
But again, I wasn’t crying because of those things. I was literally sobbing, trying my very best not to disturb my friend and the folks seated around me, because of the authenticity of Jennifer Joplin’s performance. Scott Stoney is very good as the father, “Lyman Wyeth.” Sherman Fracher is marvelous as “Silda,” the aunt to Joplin’s “Brooke.” But I was blown away by the honesty and integrity of Joplin’s “Brooke.” She was normal; not all that impressed by her parent’s celebrity and certainly not impressed with her own as a so-far-one-time novelist. There’s a moment when this amazing actress sits on the floor, curled in a ball, hiding her face . . . and she looks up, with tears, redness, and agony . . . and frankly, it just rocked my world. Perhaps it was the single greatest acting moment I will experience this year on stage. But its not just this moment; Joplin – who was blocked to have her back to my section for over half of the show – is such a good performer that it didn’t matter that I couldn’t see her face. I could still feel her energy as it permeated the entire theatre. This, my friends, is a not to be missed tour de force.
I was a little disappointed by the amount of apparently forgotten lines in the show by two of the cast in particular. This far into the run, that shouldn’t happen. It took me out of the moment occasionally, but the script is strong enough – and the rest of the cast – to pull me right back into the emotion and rising tension building. When it all comes to a powder keg, everyone was on point. It really is superb.