Theatre review: Other Desert Cities, Maidment Theatre

By Paul Simei-Barton

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Sharply scripted drama shines a light on deeply flawed and very human characters.

There is a lot of explosive fallout from family revelations in Other Desert Cities. Picture / Michael Smith
There is a lot of explosive fallout from family revelations in Other Desert Cities. Picture / Michael Smith

In what is becoming a specialty for Auckland Theatre Company, Colin McColl has discovered another superb piece of contemporary theatre that plunges us into the miasma of recriminations, secrets, remorse and abiding love that make family dramas so compelling.

In Jon Robin Baitz's script the family functions like the Large Hadron Collider, allowing us to observe the fallout from lives propelled into an extreme emotional velocity and thrown together in a series of explosive and deeply revealing collisions.

Set amid the opulent decadence of Palm Springs, the play explores the fractious politics of the invasion of Iraq with a sharply scripted and often very funny squabble between blue-haired Republicans and cultured liberals.

But rather than rehashing old arguments the play challenges the contemporary malaise in which political debate is paralysed by the lazy assumption that once you know someone's political opinions you automatically know what kind of person they are.

Rachael Walker's stylish design and Colin McColl's meticulous direction create a space that exposes the frailty of the play's deeply flawed and very human characters.

Sarah Peirse anchors the show with a commanding performance as a bigoted Reaganite who dismisses the much vaunted idealism of the 60s as nothing more than an adolescent dalliance with drugs, sex and nihilism.

Peter Hayden, playing a retired movie star, offers a moving portrait of a father desperately trying to hold his belligerent family together, while Hera Dunleavy offers a feisty defence of the liberal position and captures the fragility of living on the edge of neurosis.

Adam Gardiner is a laid-back TV producer who punctures the pomposity of rhetorical posturing and resolutely maintains that how we treat one another is much more important than our political views.

Elizabeth Hawthorne provides comic relief as a reluctantly recovering alcoholic and supplies some perceptive comments on how right-wing politics is driven by fear.

Theatre review

What: Other Desert Cities
Where: Maidment Theatre, until May 31.

- NZ Herald

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