If separating the play from the production is the job of a regional theater critic, it's a requirement that becomes ever so difficult when the work in question is a piece like Jon Robin Baitz's Other Desert Cities. This is a play with such cracklingly good and bracingly realistic dialogue that it can mesmerize even the most nitpicky critic with its words, engrossing the audience so thoroughly with its content that the form is virtually invisible. But this wonderful Actors' Playhouse production had its cake and ate it too, perfectly honoring Baitz's literate exploration of family secrets and political schisms while showcasing a diverse ensemble of powerhouse performances. At the heart of the production were Erin Joy Schmidt and Barbara Bradshaw as the contentious mother and daughter, unspooling decades of division in front of our eyes. Antonio Amadeo and Lourelene Snedeker played their supporting roles with perfect aplomb, hitting tragicomic notes with the right balance of surface warmth and closeted despair, controlled with fluid precision by director David Arisco. The elegant, artistically canted set design and nearly invisible lighting cues further enhanced this past year's most enriching theatrical experience.