Desert Nightmares: Rubicon Theatre presents Jon Robin Baitz’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play

Amanda McBroom as Polly and Deborah Taylor as Silda in "Other Desert Cities" Christopher Brown photo
Amanda McBroom as Polly and Deborah Taylor as Silda in “Other Desert Cities”
Christopher Brown photo

As the Tolstoy quote from “Anna Karenina” runs, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” That must be why playwrights return again and again to the dysfunction of the family unit. It’s particularly acute in “Other Desert Cities,” the Jon Robin Baitz play that opens Saturday (with a preview today) at the Rubicon Theatre.

The play follows the clash of realities, political and otherwise, when liberal daughter Brooke (Michelle Duffy) returns after five years to Palm Springs to the home of her staunchly conservative parents Polly and Lyman (Amanda McBroom and Granville Van Dusen) to spend Christmas. Her aunt Silda (Deborah Taylor), who also used to be her writing partner in Hollywood, is there too, a not-yet-recovering alcoholic.

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Playing it safe: Theater in Santa Barbara 2014 was a chance to reconsider and regroup

he biggest news this year in the world of Santa Barbara theater was the loss of the Circle Bar B Ranch Dinner Theatre. It’s not that the small but lovable theater was in the red. In fact, by all reports it was doing well and had a hearty subscriber base. But the owners of the surrounding ranch wanted to take the location in other directions and so in October, after 44 years, the theater closed with Marc Camoletti’s “Boeing Boeing.” Directors Susan and David Couch put their heart and soul into the little space and made it a shining example of what is usually a disparaged style of theater. It was also a home to many of our town’s favorite comic actors . . . and it gave them gainful employment too. It shall be missed.

The Ensemble Theatre Company finished its first full season at the New Vic and began its second, beginning with David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People” and bringing out the big guns for Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” showing off all the stage goodies the New Vic has at its disposal, including a reflecting pool. But the stage also benefits intimate shows with small casts, like John Logan’s Mark Rothko bio play “Red” and the campy Tallulah Bankhead-led comedy “Looped.” The year ended with a standby — Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus” — and a U.S. premiere, the uproarious comedy “The Best Brothers.” Executive Director Jonathan Fox has been balancing the new with the popular these two seasons and hopefully he’ll continue to do so.

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What the Dickens! – Rubicon Theatre’s Musical version of Scrooge changes ages and genders

Rebecca Johnson as Estelle Scrooge Jeanne Tanner photo
Rebecca Johnson as Estelle Scrooge
Jeanne Tanner photo

“Christmas Carol” often introduces kids to the world of Charles Dickens. It’s a structured classic, not too long, and primes readers to jump into the longer works, their hundreds of characters with crazy names, love of description, and heartstring-tugging plots. And the play version remains a favorite from community to community. With Rubicon wanting to try something a little bit different this year, but still giving the people a “Carol” for the holidays, it presents “Little Miss Scrooge,” which opened this past Wednesday and runs until Dec. 23.

“Little Miss Scrooge” acts as half modern update and half mash-up with the rest of Dickens’ oeuvre, and the more novels you know, the more obscure references will tickle you.

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