Other Desert Cities

WICA opens ‘Other Desert Cities’ on Friday, Feb. 13

Set in Palm Springs, Brooke Wyeth is the troubled daughter of a prominent California family, who comes home for the holidays after a six-year absence. She presents her family with her about-to-be-published memoir exposing a pivotal and tragic event in the family's history ─ a wound they don't want reopened. In effect, she draws a line in the sand and dares them all to cross it.

American playwright Jon Robin Baitz said he’d rather drink hemlock than harangue an audience with liberal pieties.

A finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Baitz’s Other Desert Cities involves a family with differing political views and a long-held family secret. But, Baitz said his play is more about humility than politics.

Andy Grenier directs (and acts in) the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts’ production, which opens Feb. 13 and runs through Feb. 28. “Jon Robin Baitz was a student of mine years ago in New York so I am delighted with the success of his play. It’s a well-crafted play with wonderfully developed characters. Each of the characters is strong enough to be the lead in a story of their own, this one happens to be about Brook,” said Grenier.

Deana Duncan plays Brooke, and said the cast talked a lot about the code of ethics demanded of a writer. “This play for me is about the cost of telling the truth and then realizing I (Brooke) didn't know the truth,” Duncan said. “It’s about the courage and strength it takes to finally stop trying to please everyone and finally just say what needs to be said.”

Brooke’s mother, Polly Wyeth, is not having it. Polly considers the book’s publication to be a betrayal of her friends-with-the-Reagans family “that has so valued discretion and our good name.”

Meanwhile, Polly's sister Silda is also visiting, after having spent some time in rehab. Polly and her former American Ambassador husband Lyman are Republicans, while Silda is a liberal. Privately, Silda tells Brooke to stand by her book.

“Don’t back down. You’ll win because you have ideas, and they only have fear,” Silda tells her.

Baitz said he wrote the play to explore what happens when a writer uses one’s life to create something. He says Brooke gets a lot of it wrong and has to deal with that; that she may not know everything she thought she knew about her parents and family. The play, he said, is about what we think we know about everybody and “the absolute un-knowableness of things.”

Whatever it is, this play contains all the makings of an engaging evening: high drama, comic relief, and great repartee written by one of America’s best, living playwrights.

The play shows at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and at 2 p.m. Sundays; Feb.13 through Feb. 28. Tickets are $22 for adults; $18 for seniors; $15 for youths; $15 for everyone at any matinee.

The cast includes Deana Duncan (Brooke), Andy Grenier (director, Lyman Wyeth), Shelley Hartle (Polly Wyeth), Heather Oglivy (aunt Silda), and David Mayer (brother Trip). Lucy Pearce is associate director, Steve Ford is the stage manager, Patty Mathieu designs the lights, costumes are by Mira Steinbrecher, Tyler Raymond is the technical director and Chandra Sadro and Jim Scullin will design the set.

Click Here for Online Purchases.
Online tickets are available until noon the day of the show.
For tickets by phone, call the Box Office at 800.638.7631 or 360.221.8268.
You can also buy tickets in person at the Box Office at 565 Camano Ave in Langley between 1 and 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, or two hours before any show.

In review

A Christmas Story In Review

by Bill Burgua

You have seen the movie maybe a zillion times, so you might ask why would someone go see a live play of something you know so well and or you can’t imagine being improved on.

No matter how beloved, a story takes on a whole new dimension live on stage, and WICA’s 2014 Holiday production A Christmas Story bears this out. Having had the pleasure to see two shows opening weekend, where kids too young to know what the heck the pre smart phone world was like, were still cracking up at the antics of the Parker family of 1950’s Holman Indiana—along with their family and friends. Please don’t think you have to part of a family to enjoy this timeless tale, done so well here. We all can find humor in Ralphie Wesley Parker’s quest for armament, the BB gun that will “shoot his eye out!”

Phil Jordan as the grown up Ralph (and a few other classic characters) tells us the story of Ralphie’s childhood Christmas with the casual elegance of a master storyteller who really could be talking about his own life. He masterfully sucks the audience into the story only to set them up for a big laugh.  He has us totally empathizing with the indignities Ralphie suffers.

Hillel Coates (Ralphie)

Hillel Coates (Ralphie)

Sixth grader Hillel Coates demonstrated his acting experience performing the role of Ralphie Parker with aplomb. He does a good job of going back and forth as the Ralphie described by his older self, to being the Ralphie speaking and interacting with other characters. A much more difficult task on stage than in edited film.

Newcomer to the stage Kristen Carlson is a wonderful surprise. Her Mother so finely walks the line between the wonderful all-knowing all-wise mother and the totally ditzy mother—to great heart and hilarity. She performed this role like she had been this family’s mother her whole life. If Carlson keeps performing like this we hope to see her on stage a lot in the future.

Robert W. Prosch performance as The Old Man is a testament to how much fun it can be for an audience when an actor is having great fun with a role. The multi and very talented Prosch goes easily from the expletive spewing nut (Note: no real expletive were spewed in this production) to the wise loving father and husband. Prosch and Carlson have great chemistry as the heads of their young Parker household.

Younger brother Randy is a big scene stealer in the film A Christmas Story and so is fourth grader Waylan Parsell’s Randy here. Much of the character’s humor is physical and Parsell literally jumps in with both hands!

After seeing Patricia Duff’s performance you will never see the prim, proper, matron school teacher Miss Shields the same way ever again. Duff’s Miss Shields and Jim Castaneda’s Department Store Santa create such a distraction at one point that the audience never notices a set change.

Then there are all the kids that play humorist Jean Shepherd’s memorable cast of supporting characters.  These talented local kids appear to have been supported by family and friends, the schools they attend, and wonderful institutions such as WICA, WCT, and WIDT. They turn out wonderful performances while having great fun, and I would venture learning a lot of life’s lessons along the way.

Director Deana Duncan takes all this talent and whips up a delightful slice of life in the days leading up to Christmas in a small town in Indiana over half a century ago.  Duncan keeps the action moving along making use of all the spaces of the Michael Nutt Main Stage, slowing nicely where the audience can absorb the timeless personal interactions of the characters.

A shout out to WICA’s creative team members that have created the bitter cold Indiana winter on the outside to the warm (as long as the furnace is working) and heartwarming Parker family home.

WICA has made it easy for audience members to actually be part of several scenes in A Christmas Story! The kids of all ages had fun in joining in with items from their audience participation Christmas Bag: fighting off bad guys with water pistols; joining in a snowball fight; and donning rabbit ears when Ralphie suffers the humiliation of wearing his Aunt’s pink bunny suit Christmas present. Participation bags are available in the lobby; the rabbit ears are worth the price alone.

It’s all there, the dogs, the turkey, the Peking Duck Christmas dinner, and especially all of Ralphie’s long thwarted quest for the best Christmas present ever, and an important step in growing up and growing to be the Ralph that remembers it all for us forever.

The magic of the theatre, especially when a good story is well told, is that it can transport us to a different time and place. By the end of WICA’s 2014 A Christmas Story you will feel like you are part of the families down on Cleveland Street, Christmas in 1950s Holman, Indiana!

About Bill

Bill Burgua after retiring from a career in biomedical research was encouraged by a founder to write as a journalist for an online hyper-local newspaper, first writing opinion pieces on local issues restricted to the six county region surrounding Sacramento California.

When Sacramento Theatre Company, the city’s oldest professional theatre company, asked that their productions be reviewed, the staff being aware of Bill’s nearly 50 years of heavy theatre attendance worldwide, made him the unofficial official theatre reviewer. He then wrote more than 100 in-depth reviews starting with the four Equity (professional) theatre companies; then adding live lectures (fave: John Waters, Thomas McGuane); pre-lecture interviews (Thomas McGuane, Terry McMillan); comedy (David Sedaris, Sarah Silverman); and food, centered around what has become the incredible “Farm to Fork” movement in northern California.

Bill also loves to travel. “How else do you get to see live theatre unless you travel there?” After a holiday week on Whidbey, Bill will be embarking on a winter ski adventure with his companion Lady, an Australian Cattle Dog/Blue Heeler.


A Tool for Set Design

A Tool for Set Design

Set Designer, Bonnie Stinson, shares one of the ways she looks for inspiration in designing her sets.

A Christmas Story

You’ll shoot your eye out! ─ ‘A Christmas Story’ returns to WICA in Langley

by Patricia Duff

One boy, one holiday wish, and a world that seems to be conspiring to make certain it doesn’t come true.

Bring the whole family to the hilarious American classic, “A Christmas Story,” which opens at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley on Friday, Dec. 5 and includes live audience participation!

You may recognize author and radio raconteur Jean Shepherd's memoir of growing up in the Midwest in the 1940s from the movie that became an instant hit upon its release in 1983. The play, adapted by Philip Grecian, also follows 9-year-old Ralphie Parker in his quest to get a genuine Red Ryder BB gun under the tree for Christmas. Ralphie pleads his case to his mother, his teacher and even Santa Claus at Higbee's Department Store. "You'll shoot your eye out!" is the only response Ralphie gets and it begins to wear thin.

Directed by Deana Duncan, WICA is thrilled to bring back this beloved holiday production after 10 years. Duncan remembers her now grown sons playing Randy and Flick back in 2004.

“I loved watching them on stage,” she said. (They laughed about one particularly wild moment when Nicholas as “Randy” got a little overly exuberant with the piggy-eating oatmeal scene.) “I'm looking forward to sitting there on closing night with my two boys, remembering when they were small and walked this stage in these roles.”

It’s appropriate that Duncan reminisces about that previous production of “A Christmas Story.” It was part of her sons’ childhoods, the part of life we can’t wait to grow out of, yet pine for when we do.  

“Jean Shepherd once said, ‘I write about American rituals. Things you’ll find nowhere else in the world.’ He was talking a lot about the way we celebrate and how he remembers his childhood. To him ‘A Christmas Story’ became ‘a reminder of humanity through comedy,’” Duncan said.

“A Christmas Story” represents what Americans remember of our childhoods; what traditions stay with us when we think about the holidays, our family and the place where we grew up. Phil Jordan, who plays the grown-up Ralph (the narrator), grew up in the Midwest, not far from Indiana where the play is set.

“I grew up in the Midwest. My dad was an avid amateur photographer, so I have a voluminous pictorial record of each and every Christmas that extends back before I was born into the mid-1940s.  I have my dad’s entire collection of thousands of slides and his 50-year old slide projector,” Jordan said. 

“The impulse to look back and re-experience the times we were happy is a soothing activity and I think that is why human beings do it,” he added.

Jordan said that, when the play opens, Ralph is reflecting on what he remembers of that one Christmas in the middle of winter in mythical Hohman, Indiana.

“Christmas was a time for snow and hot chocolate and brilliantly white, sunny, blue days of 15 degree weather,” Jordan said. But also bitter-cold winds, the snowball fights and the daily-challenge of living with a harsh winter are all a part of Jordan’s vivid memories of Christmas in the Midwest, which seem to blend in easily with Ralph’s.

“It is a testament to Ralph’s resilience that he knows how to deal with moments of sorrow, by remembering the moments in his life where optimism and youthful invulnerability prevailed over the everyday catastrophes that assail children on a regular basis: the bullies, the disappointments, the exploded myths, the adults in their world failing to understand them.”

Duncan said that nostalgia plays a huge part in this production, which she hopes to evoke with both its whimsical and sentimental sides.

“The play is a snapshot of a time. We, the audience, will sort through the memories with Ralph and hopefully walk out remembering favorite Christmas moments and looking forward to the holiday just around the corner.”

Just don’t shoot your eye out.

Speaking of “just around the corner,” in the lobby before and after the show there will be plenty of holiday fun and games for the whole family circa 1940s Indiana, including Ralphie’s Shooting Gallery, “A Christmas Story” trivia game, and the Triple Dog Dare Hangman Bar with libations for all ages!

The cast of “A Christmas Story” also includes Soren Bratrude, Tess Patty Caldwell, Kristin Carlson, Jim Castaneda, Hillel Coates, Joe Davies, Patricia Duff, Ada Rose Faith-Feyma, Justus Lester, Phoenix Lester, Meghan Parker, Rob Prosch, Jordan Schierbeek, Leo Smith and Bonnie Stinson. Valerie Johnson is the costume designer and Bonnie Stinson designed the sets.

The show plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturdays; and at 2 p.m. Sundays from Friday, Dec. 5 through Saturday, Dec. 20.

Tickets are $22 for adults; $18 for seniors; $15 for youths; $15 for matinees.

Click Here for Online Purchases. Online tickets are available until noon the day of the show. For tickets by phone, call the Box Office at 800.638.7631 or 360.221.8268. You can also buy tickets in person at the Box Office at 565 Camano Ave in Langley between 1 and 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, or two hours before any show. Season tickets for the Theatre Series are available at a discount through the Box Office.

Whidbey Island journalist Patricia Duff began Patricia Duff Writing Services in 2013. Patricia was the Island Life Editor and arts and entertainment reporter for the South Whidbey Record for six years, followed by almost two years as the start-up editor for the online arts publication, Whidbey Life Magazine.  She has been writing about the island community and its artists for about 9 years. Patricia Duff Writing Services creates effective copy for anyone who needs it, including profiles, features, ads, brochures, press releases and web content.