Theatre Lawrence's ‘Other Desert Cities’ explores secrets, family dynamics

Few things are more powerful than a secret. And, if they get out, few things are more destructive.

That’s the hook of Theatre Lawrence’s new production, “Other Desert Cities.”

“It’s a fascinating, deeply layered play with a whole lot of different themes,” says Carole Ries, the show’s director. “It deals with the loss of loved ones, family secrets, family dynamics and politics.”

In the play, which was written by Jon Robin Baitz and a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2012, Brooke Wyeth returns home after a six-year absence. She’s written a memoir, and she wants her family’s blessing. But her book reveals a family secret about the tragic suicide of her brother years before.

“That sets everything off,” Ries says. “Her father says he’s comfortable with whatever she writes, although he isn’t. But the mother understands the damage that secrets will do.”


Brooke Wyeth, played by Kirsten Tretbar, has a discussion with her brother Trip Wyeth, played by Nicholas Johnson, during a dress rehearsal of Theatre Lawrence's upcoming production of "Other Desert Cities," Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at Theatre Lawrence. The show opens Friday at the theater.

If you go

“Other Desert Cities” opens Friday and runs March 1, 2, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m., except Sundays, when it is 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 785-843-7469 or online at The theatre’s website cautions that the play features strong adult language.

The action is complicated by the family’s political leanings. The parents are influential Republicans, while the daughter is liberal.

“It’s my kind of play,” Ries says. “It deals with relationships. It’s about a family that has to learn how to love and forgive on a daily basis.”

Ries had been looking to direct at Theatre Lawrence for a while. The former executive director of Topeka Civic Theatre, she appeared onstage in Theatre Lawrence’s April 2012 production of “Steel Magnolias.”

“I have a preference for drama,” she says. “Not a lot of community theaters do them. I’m blessed and delighted to have this opportunity.”

But a play dealing with suicide, dark secrets and broken family relationships isn’t an easy thing to put on. Ries spent time working with her actors on their responses to the material.

“We talked about the issues (in the play),” she says. “I talked to them about the fact that, in all acting, you don’t limit yourself to one emotional response. The play is layered, and so should their performances be.”

Ries says that the show’s background — the inner circle of GOP politics during the Reagan era — helped in terms of getting the details right.

“By setting it in the lap of Ron and Nancy Reagan, there is a lot of research material,” she says. “We could see what these places described look like. We researched who the people they mentioned were.”

But the play is less about the individual politics and more about the relationships of the people who hold them. It’s about a family torn apart by a secret and what they have to do to put themselves back together.

“I hope it will cause them to talk about it,” Ries says of the audience’s reaction. “I hope it will make them feel compassionate. I hope it will make them cry and laugh.”

And, of course, like any good drama, it has something to say.

“Secrets are damaging,” Ries says. “We need to let the truth out. That’s the most important theme.”


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