Other Desert Landscapes: Playwright Jon Robin Baitz Comes Home for the Holidays

What fresh hell is this? The one created by family

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Illustration by Brian Stauffer

Once L.A.’s playwriting wunderkind, Jon Robin Baitz has eased into middle age as a New Yorker. So the West Coast premiere of his Pulitzer-nominated Other Desert Cities, a Broadway hit last year, is something of a homecoming. It’s Christmas Eve, and novelist Brooke Wyeth is visiting her cashmere-Republican parents in Palm Springs. She’s brought along a conversation starter: a soon-to-be-published memoir. Before the first scotch is drained, a living room Götterdämmerung erupts over who was responsible for her brother’s suicide. Although Brooke’s parents are paragons of Reagan-era virtue, Baitz never turns them into piñatas, instead imbuing them with a terrible nobility. That restraint reflects his appreciation for his own parents: “I see certain qualities in myself from both of them—forbearance, a tendency to not speak ill of people.” He’s left the daggers to Robert Foxworth and JoBeth Williams, who lead a cast of sniping characters on the Mark Taper Forum stage from November 28 through January 6.

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