Humanity can never quite manage to get out of its own way. And that’s a good thing for the entertainment industry. Since “there is nothing new under the sun,” there is constant material for every next production. Certainly playwright Wendy Wasserstein capitalizes on this reality with her offering of An American Daughter. Written in the late 1990’s following her critically acclaimed The Sisters Rosensweig, all those whispered or repressed imaginings of life’s challenges and confusions are brought to the surface like a rash which no ointment can ease.
Regrettable hiccups in everyday life can create insurmountable stumbling blocks as Lyssa Dent Hughes played by Kiersten Harris discovers when she is nominated for US Surgeon General. Under the artificial scrutiny of press coverage Lyssa is demonized by political reporter Timber Tucker (Tom Moore) who highlights her failure to respond to a Jury Duty summons against her mid-western “ice box cakes” and perfect soccer-mom persona. The cast is packed with dubious sinner/saint personalities: Lyssa’s dad – long time US Senator Alan Hughes (Stuart Rick) supports his daughter’s passion and idealism in spite of his opposing political views while touting the blessings of his fourth wife Charlotte “Chubby” Hughes (Carole Preston).
Lyssa’s lecherous, foul-mouthed, self-aggrandizing husband and university professor Walter Abramson (Bob Harbaum) rests on the laurels of a 5-year-old book he wrote while ogling his prize student Quincy Quince (Alexis Amarante). Her life’s mission is to champion the struggle of every female with aspirations beyond domesticity even while undermining the sanctity of Lyssa’s marriage.
Walter’s best friend – Morrow McCarthy (Michael Abendshein) stands on his Gay Conservative imperialist soap box while throwing Lyssa under the bus by reminding reporter Tucker of her Jury Duty neglect. Lyssa’s best friend Judith B. Kaufman (Brandie Peterson) is so wrapped up as an infertile, divorced, Black Jewish female medical professional that she can hardly be supportive when it seems Lyssa’s appointment is in jeopardy. Lyssa at one point laments to her father: “You never told me there was a price.” Even the Senator’s spin doctor – Billy Robbins (Zach Walsh) is of no help with his exuberant wordsmithing on Lyssa’s behalf.
Scarce blanks left between the lines of the script are artfully filled on and off stage by Mark Shullenbarger, Andie Allison, Matthew Datcher, Elijah Fischer, Jack Husted, Susan Clic, and Roger Stone.
My take on all this is “Let any one of us who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.”
Beyond all the drama I must acknowledge the mastery of Director Bruce Hirsch who somehow managed to impart on his talented and energetic cast the ability to keep the pace moving forward, in spite of a storyline which hopped and skipped through life’s blemishes like a Labrador sighting a squirrel.
Stage Managers Evelyn Renshaw and Cathy Clark manipulated every element of the immaculate set designed by David Jones, and built with the help of Steve Deming, Mark Shullenbarger, and Joy Wyne. The image captured and presented, with intimate & detailed properties gathered by Nancy Davis, was truly that of a living room in a Georgetown townhome complete with the perceived view from an elevated window down to a street buzzing with media activity.
It seems life doesn’t come with instructions. But as Lyssa’s ancestor General Ulysses S. Grant wrote in a letter to his daughter “Our task is to rise & continue.”
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
An American Daughter plays through May 28, 2017, at The Montgomery Playhouse and Arts on the Green performing at The Gaithersburg Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 258-6394, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.
Review #2: ‘An American Daughter’ at Montgomery Playhouse and Arts on the Green by Mara Bayewitz.