Remake – “Other Desert Cities” By Jon Robin Baitz
The play centers around the Wyeth family during a vacation over the Christmas 2004 holiday. The wealthy Republican family has spent a long time in the political and public spotlight. The father, Lyman Wyeth, is a Hollywood actor-turned-US ambassador, while his wife Polly is a successful screenwriter and close friend of both Nancy Reagan and Betsy Bloomingdale. Polly’s sister, Aunt Silda, is a nutty if unpredictable recovering alcoholic. Lyman and Polly’s endearingly goofy and non-confrontational son has made a living writing a successful reality TV show.
The story takes place in the family’s mansion in Palm Springs, California. The daughter, Brooke, a liberal like her Aunt Silda, has returned to the family after six years living away in New York City. Unlike the rest of the family, she is a liberal, as well as a writer. She had been struggling greatly with depression so bad she had been hospitalized, and was now on the cusp of publishing a memoir that would ruin the family’s public image.
The eldest Wyeth son, Henry, had ended in apparent suicide in the 1960s, four decades prior. It has left a deep mark on the family. With her memoir, Brooke intended to tell the story the public had never heard – Henry’s long, dark spiral into drug abuse, his anti-establishment and anti-war sentiment, and finally how he vanished after being accused of bombing a US Army recruiting station, leaving nothing but a suicide note. Needless to say, Henry’s parents fought hard to make sure that the public heard a very different story.
Brooke feels that her parents turned their back on Henry and were at the very least partly responsible for his death. Auny Silda supports her and urges her to publish it. Lyman avoids addressing the issue as long as he can before finally imploring she doesn’t publish it. Trip is thrust into the role of becoming the peacemaker, despite his desire to stay out of it and remain neutral. He warns Brooke that while it may be an excellent and important memoir, that releasing it would ruin the trust and support of her family.
In addition to changing some details of the plot, I’d also like to employ a bit of role-reversal. My remake would focus on a modest liberal Midwestern family whose daughter is a highly influential Republican politician. Despite the daughter’s financial success, the family refuses their daughter’s financial offerings of a “better life,” insisting that they prefer their quiet and modest lifestyle, and deep down, fundamentally disagrees with the source of the money being offered. The daughter is the widow of a once successful Republican, the former Speaker of the House. The couple had been involved in some unsavory (read: egregiously immoral and illegal) under-the-table political deals that were partially discovered by the media, erupting in a massive scandal. Only the husband had been implicated, and before the whole story broke, he died of a heart attack. Their daughter came into political prominence by playing the victim and promising to “clean up American Politics.” The family knew the full story, and while they passionately disagreed with their daughters decisions, they couldn’t bring themselves to come forward and throw their daughter under the bus. A decade later, a high-profile political investigative journalist began to catch on and wished to speak with the family. The play takes place on the family’s first group vacation in six years, during which they disclose to their daughter the offer made by the journalist and debate whether or not they should go through with it. The daughter’s Aunt, who cared for her in childhood while her parents worked long exhausting hours and to whom she was closest, quietly urges her parents to come forward.