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

What fresh hell is this? The one created by family

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.