Getting to the heart of the matter

Other Dessert Cities (Queensland Theatre Company)

QPAC, The Playhouse

August 10 – September 1

desert cities

Queensland Theatre Company’s “Other Desert Cities” is an extravagant production, detailed in design aesthetic. Set and lighting impressively deliver Palm Springs sunrises, sunsets and reflected water effects and a giant sunken den with a real fire add a lavish touch. But, like the family whose turmoil is central to its narrative, there is limited substance beneath the facade.

At the heart of the story is the common conflict of family relationships, an area ripe with dramatic promise. A glamorous family gathers for a Christmas reunion and cracks begin appearing in their composed veneer. Spirited, careless author-daughter Brooke (Rebecca David)  returns after an extended absence from the fold, bringing with her a memoir manuscript that is profoundly personal and threatens to tear the family apart as it recalls the tragedy of a long lost older brother.

As parents Polly and Hyman, Janet Andrewartha and Robert Coleby give credible performances, as one would expect from actors of such experience, however, their character possibilities are not fully exploited. Rather, it is Conrad Coleby who gives the most entertaining performance as the TV-producer, voice-of-reason brother, Trip.

“Other Desert Cities” may be an acclaimed script, but it is an essentially American script, beyond just the brash American accents. Indeed, not only verbally, but visually, the show is alienating to an Australian audience, with contemplative pauses, meaningful sighs and  distanced character interactions, infused with American soap opera genre glamour. Unfortunately, too, the humour is not as sophisticated as the show’s aesthetics. There are lots of one-liners, but many are of groanworthy merit.

For all of its spectacle, “Other Desert Cities” falls far from its potential. You know that all the elements are there, but also that they are not quite working together.

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