Agatha Christie’s A Daughter’s a Daughter at The Arlington Players features the character of Sarah Prentice: the most hateful, self-centered, pampered, jealous, possessive, resentful, rotten little horror on the Washington-area stage this month. Mel Gumina plays her brilliantly. Some believe the Sarah character was based on Christie’s daughter Rosalind Hicks.
A Daughter’s a Daughter is not what you expect from a Christie play. The plot revolves around Sarah, a daughter whose bitterness and jealousy lead her to obstruct her mother’s plans to remarry. A Daughter’s A Daughter is all about feelings (often hidden), sacrifice, and second chances. There is no real love shown, though the word is thrown around often. Many of the relationships are rocky.
Heather Benjamin stars as Ann Prentice, the mother who is reasonably young, attractive, and dare I say sexy. Ann goes through a metamorphosis between acts. The play opens with her engaged to a man she loves and plans to grow old with. Then Sarah’s bitterness and jealousy puts a kibosh to her mother’s plans.
The calm, satisfied Ann of Act I is transformed into a party girl over the next three years as Act II opens. Sarah, still living at home and sponging off Mommy dearest, is getting bored. What shall she do? Plenty, but you must see the play to find out.
Ann’s mask of being the party girl, not interfering in Sarah’s life and pretending all is gay has her headed for a nervous breakdown. Benjamin’s performance captures the complexity of the character. Where is a psychoanalyst when you need one?
One character, Dame Laura Whitstable, Sarah’s godmother, is the voice of reason and sensibility. Unfortunately, she is a minor character, and the main players fail to recognize her wisdom. Kate Ives is splendid in the role.
Mara Rosenberg plays the longtime, faithful maid and cook who provides a steadiness for the cast.
Hats off to Director Ashley Amidon for having the players speak with American accents, rather than use fake British accents in this first U.S. viewing of A Daughter’s a Daughter.
Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley must have had fun designing costumes for this play. The women’s outfits, down to the silk stockings are correct. However, the stockings have black seams that were not vogue until the 1950s. The men’s clothing was fantastic.
Christie uses men as minor characters in her play. Bruce Rauscher is an excellent fiancé and foil to Sarah. James Murphy plays Sarah’s lifelong friend who returns from the Army with her, then travels the world suffering failed business ventures. They’re never his fault, mind you, “just rotten luck.” Erick Kennedy plays a playboy who is as bad for women as he is to them.
Michael Bozzella and Chloey Garza are also featured.
A Daughter’s a Daughter was originally written throughout the 1930s, but was finally published as a novel in 1952. The play finally opened on July 9, 1956, billed under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott at the Theatre Royal in Bath, England for a week of eight performances. It wasn’t until 2009 that the play finally made it to London’s West End.
Running time: Two hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Note: The new parking garage is located at the far end of Alice West Fleet Elementary School (115 S Old Glebe Rd) on the right.