A typical Mom is folding laundry, shouting tasks to kids upstairs and handling day-to-day issues on an ordinary day as An American Daughter opens. Only when she listens to an interview on the radio and criticizes herself for an insignificant flub do we realize that she’s just been nominated by the President as the U.S. Surgeon General. Welcome to Wendy Wasserstein’s incredible ruminations on the roles of gender politics that still resonate nearly twenty years after its opening.
The life of Dr. Lyssa Dent Hughes, beautifully portrayed by Susan Marie Rhea, turns topsy turvy with the pronouncement. The play shows how she handles the attention, the onslaught of press, and how an innocent slip can flip the switch of public sentiment, all while handling the duties of being a wife, mom, and friend.
Susan Rhea portrays the perfect combination of care and softness, aiding and abetting others, that gently coats an eco-plate of a tough as nails, no-nonsense physician who stands her ground. As a daughter to a Senator and having lost her own mother at a young age, she’s used to fending for herself as she finds her own voice to make a difference in the world.
Mark A. Rhea plays her husband, Dr. Walter Abramson, a noted author with his own national prominence. An incredible character actor, Mark Rhea lurches around hunching his shoulders and seems ill at ease most of the time. Still, they have terrific chemistry as reflected in the touching scene when he curls up on the cough feeling dejected. Despite her horrific schedule, Lyssa drops everything, turns on the charm, and gives him the attention he craves. This scene shows yet another example of the character going the extra mile or two or ten to be there for others, sometime to her own detriment. Seeing these two together was enough to win me over.
Dr. Judith B. Kaufman is a bosom buddy friend since college, and Lolita Marie plays brings a warmth that is much needed to a character who can be quite irritating. The meaty monologues thrill actors to take a crack at, and the zingy one-liners can bring down the house. Although there’s enough meat there to relay a sense of a character, the script makes her so needy, that she can come across as ingratiating. Still, Lynne Thigpen won a Tony for the original Broadway production, and it’s fun to watch a character bulldoze stereotypes by being black, a Jew, a physician and a middle aged woman yearning to get pregnant.
The key conceit is that she’s desperate for the pregnancy, “to create life” – not a peep about having a baby or raising a child. That’s the down-side of some of Wasserstein’s characters. They’re caught between being two and three dimensional, maybe they’re two and one-half. The limitations are balanced by the writer’s perfect pitch in other aspects of character development, such as the bond between the two buddies. Wasserstein knows and gets women’s relationships and connections, and Judith and Lyssa come through thick as thieves.
A rather large cast fills in the rest of the ensemble, and Brandon McCoy keeps everything moving crisply with clarity about the stakes at hand, and handles the ebb and flow of the shifting emotional tides – and man, do they flow. A rather noted Wasserstein trait is her tendency to leave characters hanging with tough emotional issues, then side-stepping the crux of the matter with a neat resolve, humor, or letting it dissipate and dissolve on its own. Lyssa catches her husband in a compromised position, but she has an interview to complete and children to tend to, and a nomination to win, so she keeps going. Even when she finally does confront him, nothing comes of it. There are more clothes to fold and kids to shuttle to class and practice, and so she keeps going.
An American Daughter
closes May 28, 2016
Details and tickets
Brianna Letourneau plays Quincy Quince – what a name crackling with energy – with a steady gaze and grit and determination to get what she wants as an upcoming media maven. On the other side of the feminist divide, Charlotte “Chubby” Hughes played with nice nuance by Sheri S. Herren expresses in her delivery that she’s more than a breezy-headed floozy, especially if anyone hints at threatening her livelihood as fourth and final Senator’s wife.
An innocent transgression by Morrow McCarthy’s juicy character, played by Slice Hicks, was a stream of conscious blurt out that Lyssa may have conveniently skipped jury duty. The innocent transgression gets blown out of context and proportion. Michael Innocenti does a fine turn as Timber Tucker who must follow the news story, no matter the cost. Timothy Hayes Lynch enters each scene with presence and a strong backbone as Senator Alan Hughes who knows how to spin a response yet is genuine and tender with his daughter.
Costumes by Alison Samantha Johnson hit the “soccer-mom” Gap look, a station or two removed from Target and Walmart, comfy jeans gentle collared shirt. Dr. Kaufman on the other hand always looks pulled together and Quince has the media darling flair .
Entertaining and insightful, the play echos timeless sentiments that are part of the bedrock of the country, and that resonate particularly now in this politic city. As the program notes, “ The playwright explored the deeper issue of the complex politics of independent American women living in a society that values traditional roles and expectations. “ Keegan recognized the opportunity and grabbed it in rearranging their production schedule to showcase this piece at such a crucial time in our history. Dr. Lyssa Dent Hughes shows how we must have the strength to get up and keep going, no matter what battles are won or lost, despite the victories and defeats. As a blood line descendent of the wife of Ulysses S. Grant, whose picture is prominently displayed, it’s wired in her DNA. Wasserstein brings these traits to the forefront and Keegan gives us a fresh opportunity to remember, reflect, “rise and continue,” a battle cry to get up and keep going.
An American Daughter by Wendy Wasserstein . Directed by Brandon McCoy . Featuring Susan Marie Rhea, Brianna Letourneau, Lolita Marie, Mark A. Rhea, Slice Hicks, Michael Innocenti, Timothy H. Lynch, Sheri S. Herren, Zach Norris, Kathleen Manson, Josh Sticklin . Sound design: Tony Angelini . Set dressing and properties: Carol H Baker . Lighting design: Colin Dieck . Scenic Design: Matthew J. Keenan. . Costume Design: Allison Samantha Johnson. Hair and make up design: Craig Miller. Assistant Director: Marie Byrd Sproul . Stage manager Juliana Parks . Produced by Keegan Theatre . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.