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Other Desert Cities

Other Desert Cities
Corn Stock Winter Playhouse
January 5-7 & 10-14

By Stan Strickler

Sometimes, I am astounded by the talent on Peoria area stages, and Other Desert Cities currently playing at Corn Stock Winter Playhouse is an excellent example of the wealth of local talent. The cast is simply outstanding and the whole play moves along to a riveting climax. Paul Gordon is to be commended for assembling such an all star cast and directing with such finesse.

Psychologists tell us that keeping secrets within a family can result in misunderstanding and faulty family dynamics, and this play illustrates that nicely. The play opens on Christmas Eve in 2004 in Palm Springs, California with the Wyeth family coming in from a tennis match. All seems happy and light, but as the secrets unfold we start to see the family unravel. The first hint of trouble comes when Polly (the mother) mentions her two children to which her daughter replies that she means three children. Immediately we are drawn into the family conflict and began wondering what happened in the past to make the mother eliminate one of her children. The result is a gradual unfolding of long kept family secrets and suppressed feelings which come out in explosive fury as the play progresses until the final secret is revealed. I really don’t want to say much more than that since I don’t want to spoil the intricate plot twists and turns, but suffice it to say that the secrets that have been kept have created psychological problems within the entire family.

As Polly, Helen Engelbrecht gives a subtle and nuanced performance alternating between kind and loving and biting and bitter as she is attacked by her daughter for events which occurred about thirty years ago. Her biting comments add a nice bitter humor to the play. As the patriarch of the family Doug Orear gives an arresting performance that is at times subtle and kindly and at others demanding and angry as he feels attacked for his actions in the past. Both the parents are staunch conservative Republicans who support the Iraq War. Their conservatism is long standing as they count Ron and Nancy Reagan as personal friends. Both of these actors display their desire to hold on to their cherished beliefs as their daughter attacks them for their treatment of their dead son and their cherished political positions.

As the children Kerri Rae Hinman and Andrew Jon Rhodenbaugh are both excellent. Kerri alternates between wanting a relationship with her parents and angrily blaming them for what has happened in the past. It is certainly believable that she has had a depressive breakdown and is now recovering and wanting to light the fuse to bring the hypocrisy of the family to light. Andrew alternates nicely between wanting to sympathize with his sister's position and to support his parents as well. His performance subtly evokes a person caught in the middle of a conflict not of his making and one he doesn’t quite fully understand.

Also truly outstanding is Cindy Hoey as the recovering alcoholic sister of Polly. She quietly tries to defuse the tense situations going on around her and at the same time adding to the failed dynamics of the family. She is by turns funny and quirky, comforting, and quite acerbic. She adds a much needed comic element to this play.

The set nicely evokes an upper middle class desert home with its terra cotta tiles, Oriental rug and elegant furniture. My only complaint is that some of the furniture is a bit bulky and sometimes hides the actors. I would recommend sitting in the upper rows of the theater for better sight lines.

I certainly highly recommend you see this play. The acting is superb and subtle and blends humor and drama nicely throughout. It also has a lot to say about differing political views, but never stoops to demeaning any of the characters.

Other Desert Cities continues Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2:30 pm at the Corn Stock Theatre Center (located in upper Bradley Park).  Tickets are $10 for adults & $7 for students with ID and are available at the Corn Stock box office, by phone at 309-676-2196 or online at 

Posted January 26, 2015