OTHER DESERT CITIES

Melodrama that wants to be more. This production at the Mark Taper Forum is about a dysfunctional family with a dark secret — seriously, another one of those. The drawn-out battle at the heart of Jon Robin Baitz’s play pits an aggressively liberal daughter’s perceived right to write “honestly” in the pages of her about-to-be-published memoir vs her seriously conservative parents’ horror at having their family’s greatest crisis exposed to the public. The two sides are supposed to carry equal heft. And here is where this production falters: the actress who plays the daughter is unbearable and the actress who plays the mother is not a hell of a lot better. Part of the problem for Robin Weigart (the daughter) is that she has a straining rasp in her voice exacerbated by how much she whines from start to finish. But mainly, she isn’t very good. JoBeth (POLTERGEIST) Williams (the mother) has a showier part as the shrewish Hell Mom and is given what are meant to be the best zingers, but she’s declamatory and all on the surface. The same is true for Jeannie Berlin, far from SHEILA LEVINE and now in senior territory playing “the alcoholic aunt”. Only Robert Foxworth (a stage veteran in addition to his decades in television) takes us inside the character. The big reveal at the end is an acknowledgment that the play is essentially a domestic drama, making the the passing references to Presidents Reagan and Bush and Desert Storm and 9/11 and Vietnam-era political violence mere window dressing. Nice set, though. — Jeff Schultz

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