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Opening weekend affords actors one more chance to reach deep

Profile image for Lucinda Breeding
Lucinda Breeding

EDITOR'S NOTE: In the Nov. 25 edition, we published a story about the process of staging "Other Desert Cities," the upcoming Denton Community Theatre drama by Jon Robin Baitz. The first story examined the "homework" actors do early in rehearsal. 

The second story, published on Dec. 24, visited the production as the players got on the stage. This final story returns to the production in its opening week. 

The cast of Denton Community Theatre's Other Desert Cities stands in the dark. When the opening cue comes — a dimming  of the lights — they pause, take a breath and take their places on the stage. 

It's what theater people call "tech week," the final week of dress rehearsals when the costumes, lighting, sound and set are readied for audiences. And the players? They can't call for their lines, and should something unexpected happen (say a falling prop or a flubbed entrance), the cast and the crew have to work through it as seamlessly as possible. 

But while tech week adds the final layers onto the show, the actors said it's one more chance to discover who their characters are. For about two months, the cast has been studying the family at the center of Jon Robin Baitz's play. Brooke Wyeth, a novelist who has finally overcome crippling depression, comes home for Christmas bearing a difficult gift. She's brought the manuscript of her memoir for her family to read. The problem is that the book indicts Brooke's conservative parents Lyman and Polly — Hollywood players in the mold of Ronald Reagan — in the suicide of their oldest son, Henry. Brooke's brother Tripp is caught between his parents and sister, and her aunt Silda might not be a neutral source. 

Amanda Carson Green, who plays the buttoned-up Polly, said the set helped her channel the character. (The drama's single set is the Wyeth living room, a fashionable spot in a sleek, contemporary Palm Springs house. The family swimming pool is visible through a large window.)

"I come out here before the show and mess with the [throw] pillows," Green said. "And getting used to what I look like helps, too."

Green wears a carefully coiffed wig, short and conservative with silver capping off the brunette. Her costume signals affluence. 

Patrick Britton plays Tripp, a grounded reality television producer who has come to accept the discontent that comes with having childhood illusions erased.

"For me, just being able to look in each other's eyes makes a big difference," Britton said. "We know our lines and where we're supposed to be now, so being able to really look at the other actors makes a difference."

John Rogers, who plays retired actor Lyman, agreed with Britton about being on a finished set with no script in hand and in costume. For Rogers, that costume is a conservative blazer, red tie and carefully combed hair. 

"That's true. Even tonight, when I looked at the other actors, we made connections we haven't before," Rogers said. 

Judi Conger, who plays Silda, said the final week of rehearsals gave her a chance to really listen to the other actors.

"For me, it's feeling the relationships more deeply. That's what I've noticed about this last bit of rehearsals," Conger said. 

Micha Marie Stevens, who plays the role of Brooke, agreed with Conger. The actors have spent the final week of rehearsal deepening their characters and adding layers to their relationships. 

"For me, it's the trust I have with the other actors," she said. "The collaborative trust is really good with this cast. I know that they're going to be there, not just for me, but we're going to be there for each other."

"Yes," Green said. "With this cast, I know if I throw a line, they're going to be able to pick up the scene."

Rogers said he's found that he's meeting his peers' eyes more often on stage.

"I'm an actor who doesn't like to look other actors in the eye very much. I cheat out toward the audience. But this production, I'm doing a lot of looking each other in the eye," he said.   

Bill Kirkley, the director, said he's enjoyed watching the company discover the material and take it further. 

"I see the growth," Kirkley said. "We lay out a skeleton as a foundation, and it's up to them to build something on that foundation. You get onto the stage, and the stakes are elevated. You just hope that, as a director, the cast sees the stakes and really embraces them." 

Remaining performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 18-20. Matinee performances are 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 14 and 21, at the Campus Theatre, 214 W. Hickory St. Tickets cost $22 for adults, $18 for ages 62 and up, $15 for students and $10 for ages 10 and under. The show is rated R for language and adult themes.

FEATURED IMAGE:  The Wyeths battle it out in a family drama about regret, depression, suicide and secrets in Denton Community Theatre's Other Desert Cities. The Jon Robin Baitz' drama opened this weekend. Pictured, from left: Silda Grauman (Judi Conger);  Polly Wyeth (Amanda Carson Green); Brooke Wyeth (Micha Marie Stevens); Tripp Wyeth (Patrick Britton) and Lyman Wyeth (John Rogers).  Jeff Woo/DRC