A small group of actors is huddled around a folding table in the PointBank Black Box Theatre.
Director Bill Kirkley sits at the head of the table, a notebook and a script for the razor-sharp Jon Robin Baitz's Other Desert Cities spread out in front of him. Denton Community Theatre presents the play in January.
For Kirkley, these are some of the most crucial days of producing a play. In terms of shop talk, the process is called "table work." It's sure to sound dull to the audience member, but the early days of rehearsal, with actors and the directorial team huddled around a table, chart the course for what will end up on stage.
Other Desert Cities tells the story of a liberal writer, Brooke Wyeth, who has come back to her parents' California home for Christmas in 2004. Brooke has a bombshell to drop on her parents: She's written a memoir about the death of her brother, Henry — including the warts and flaws of her parents. Polly Wyeth, the matriarch of the WASP family, is scandalized. Her husband, retired film actor Lyman Wyeth, is weary from carrying a brutal secret. Brooke's much younger brother, Trip, is tired of playing peacemaker. And Brooke's aunt Silda — a primary source for the memoir — might have lied by omission.
Other Desert Cities' older characters were Hollywood players and writers in the era of Ronald Reagan — both the actor and the future president. Their children didn't stray too far. Trip produces a reality television show. Brooke writes.
After reading through the second act of the play, the local actors discuss the idea of sacrifice.
"We discussed that Trip hasn't lived this," said Patrick Britton, who plays the youngest of the Wyeth clan. "He was really young when his brother died. He thinks his family is being broken, and Trip's objective here is to keep his family together. And that, obviously, isn't where Brooke's head is."
Misha Stevens, who plays the role of Brooke, said the character is acquainted with suffering. She's asked her family to read her memoir, a story that points fingers at her parents for their part in her dead brother's failure and death.
"I think for Brooke, she wants to bleed. To bleed into the earth," Stevens said. "She wants to really get over it. She's somewhere in the middle of the five stages of grief. She wants everything in this neat, messy little package. She's so ready to be in that space. She needs the rebuilding of the story.
Pilot Point resident John Rogers plays the role of Lyman.
"Lyman has sacrificed the truth," Rogers said. "He says he does it to protect his children, and Polly circles the wagons around him, he says. But he has a pretty big secret. And it takes a toll on Lyman."
Amanda Carson Green said Baitz's play recalls a Hollywood era with much more conservative cultural and political beliefs.
"For Polly, sacrifice is about love," Green said. "I think she see unconditional love as having limits — and I know that sounds weird — but Polly sees limits. The generation of the 1960s and 1970s, as parents, they saw limits as being important. And without giving too much away, I think Polly sees what she and Lyman did for Henry as the most loving thing they could do."
Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12-13 and Jan. 18-20, with matinees at 2 p.m. Jan. 14 and 21, at the Campus Theatre, 214 W. Hickory St. Tickets cost $22 for adults, $18 for ages 62 and older, $15 for students with valid ID and $10 for ages 12 and younger. For reservations, call 940-382-1915 or visit www.dentoncommunitytheatre.com.