In expanded season, Theatre Aspen goes for drama with ‘Other Desert Cities’
If You Go …
What: ‘Other Desert Cities,’ presented by Theatre Aspen
Where: Hurst Theatre, Rio Grande Park
When: Wednesday, Aug. 5, 8 p.m. (opening night); plays through Aug. 22. The Aug. 13 performance will be followed by a talk-back about mental health with the Aspen Hope Center.
How much: $32-$100
“Other Desert Cities,” the fourth and final show in Theatre Aspen’s summer repertory, opens Wednesday night at the Hurst Theatre. The acclaimed drama about a dysfunctional Palm Springs family, which premiered on Broadway in 2011, signals a return to sober-minded theater for the local company in an expanded 10-week summer season.
This summer marks the first time Theatre Aspen has staged four summer shows in repertory sine the Great Recession. And it’s the first heavy drama at Theatre Aspen since “Crimes of the Heart” in 2008. The season concludes at the end of this month with the new Aspen Theatre Fest.
“Even though my gut is that the populist desire out here is to be entertained and to laugh and to have more comedy-based experiences, some people want more meat,” said Theatre Aspen executive artistic director Paige Price. “People do say, ‘I wish you did more new work and contemporary titles,’ so we’re going to try to do that this year.”
The play complements the musical “Cabaret,” the whimsical comedy “Peter and the Starcatcher” and the children’s show “Junie B. Jones The Musical.” Adding a fourth show allowed the company to take on the contemporary drama of “Other Desert Cities,” in which a daughter returns home with news that she is publishing a divisive family memoir.
A four-show repertory makes for budgetary and scheduling challenge for the company, Price said, but artistically it’s irresistible.
“Maybe we don’t do it every year, maybe we do it in years where the programming is right,” said Price. “But it makes me feel like we do have something for everybody. It’s certainly juicy for the actors.”
The play is helmed by Broadway director Sarna Lapine, with an ensemble five-member cast including Megan Byrne, Peggy J. Scott and Jack Wetheral, who originated the title role in “The Elephant Man” on Broadway in 1979. Audiences may recognize Lori Wilner from her role as Fraulein Schneider in “Cabaret,” which runs through Aug. 15 and Curran Connor, who is playing Smee in the company’s ongoing production of “Peter and the Starcatcher.”
“We had to find actors that would convey the depth of family history,” said Price. “So casting it was really difficult and very delicate. … This cast is quite amazing. They’re going to pack a wallop.”
Though there is some dark humor mixed into the taut drama, Price said that in rehearsals “Other Desert Cities” is shaping up as an intense theatrical experience. “It’s a pretty devastating play,” said Price. “In my mind, when I remember it, I remember the comedy. Now – granted it’s been close-up in a rehearsal room – I’m faced with the drama, the despair and the dysfunction of it.”
Theatre Aspen’s ambitious season will conclude with one-night performances of two brand new shows during the Theatre Fest – the musical “Finn the Fearless” Aug. 25 and the play “The Agent” Aug. 28. This Sunday, Aug. 9, is the annual Apprentice Showcase, featuring the student performers from the Theatre Aspen Apprentice program.
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