Port City Playhouse An American DaughterBy Laura & Mike Clark • Nov 2nd, 2008 • Category: Reviews
Port City Playhouse
Lee Center for the Performing Arts, Alexandria, VA
$16/$14 Seniors and Juniors
Through November 16th
An American Daughter is a play by Wendy Wasserstein. In Washington, D.C., it focuses on Dr. Lyssa Dent Hughes, a health care expert and forty-something daughter of a long-time U.S. Senator, and her tough nomination fight for a sought-after cabinet post. This play features all that you would expect from this D.C. based comedy-drama including scandal, partisan and personal politics galore!
This production of An American Daughter never quite lived up to its billing as a comedy. The drama was there, but the comedy aspects were so rare that they felt like a treat when they did occur. This production had some serious pacing issues, as most of the scenes appeared to drag along. Many of the actors appeared to be stiff and cold. There were basic blocking issues, such as when actors seemed to have their backs to the audience regularly as they interacted with actors at the upstage sofa, and there were long stretches where the actors remained seated as they chatted. They were not overly engaging towards each other. The show seemed to lack a spark it needed and had little energy.
Lyssa Dent-Hughes, the devoted mother/housewife/doctor/Surgeon General nominee, was played by Margaret Bush. Bush’s freedom to use the playing area, and treat the space as home was evident, as in the play’s opening scene watching herself on television being nominated for Surgeon General, then cleaning the living room and dancing and singing to the radio. She was just as comfortable at home in big fuzzy slippers as in a pink interview dress. Bush had great expressions and reactions to the storm growing around her. Unfortunately, her husband Walter Abrahamson, played by the stiff Mark Lee Adams, didn’t give her much to work with. To a point, this play showed the problems in their marriage as one of the major plot points. But it was difficult to see a connection between the two. Their fun scene alone together in Act I didn’t appear spontaneous, maybe foreshadowing the problems to come.
Lyssa and Walter’s family friend Morrow McCarthy was played by Richard Isaacs. Isaacs was playing the one character that had no inhibitions about what was going to come out of his mouth next. Isaacs played the charismatic, laid back writer wonderfully, despite a few minor line problems, something he shared with most of the cast.
The rest of the cast appeared stiff. For example, the important scene between Walter Abrahamson and Quincy Quince (played by Theresee McNichol) did not seem natural. While dancing separately, they appeared to be counting off their steps, then moved towards each other quickly from ten feet apart for the kiss. It simply didn’t appear natural. Dr. Judith Kaufman, played by Anita Jones, also was ill at ease on stage. Jones consistently seemed to be waiting for her next line instead of reacting to what the other characters were saying around her.
A significant problem was the composition of the actors. Many scenes took place near the upstage sofa, which resulted in actors being upstaged as they turned their bodies to interact with people sitting on or standing behind that sofa. Occasionally, the actors would focus their attention away from the actor speaking, which was distracting. Director Barra Kahn made poor decisions that allowed for the actors to be upstaged and to appear stationary for extended amounts of time.
The set for An American Daughter was a unit set, the living room of Lyssa and Walter’s home. The home had a comfortable feel to it, although the mismatched furniture didn’t present the image of a successful couple living in Georgetown. The Set Designers were Barra Kahn and Donald Neal (the show’s producer).
There were a few sound effects, such as the off stage voices of Lyssa and Walter’s twin boys (who are never seen) and the stereo. Several characters spent time dancing and singing along with the radio, the volume of which magically reduced itself significantly when someone began speaking. The music itself was well chosen. The Sound Designer was Alan Wray.
An American Daughter ran two and a half hours with one intermission. It is playing through November 16, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM . A Tuesday performance on the 11th at 8 pm. And for the first time, PCP a Sunday matinee on the 16th at 3 PM at the Lee Center in Alexandria, Virginia.
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And now, on with the show.
Wendy Wasserstein was a gifted palywright, with a powerhouse mind and a quick wit. She was a master of behavioral science and had a keen understanding of sociological issues. In An American Daughter, Wendy used her passion for living as a woman to express her concern that as far as we’ve come, women still have a tough row to hoe until we are treated and seen as equal to men, not only in the eyes of the law, but in the hearts of men and women alike.
This gift of humanity is a challenge, and in An American Daughter, Wendy highlights that challenge on a professional, personal, and familial level for women. In the scope of a week, our protagonist, Lyssa Dent-Hughes, faces upheaval in her life professionally, politically, maritally, socially, and emotionally. We get to see the inner workings of this well rounded character and what makes her tick, including her vulnerabilities and insecurities as well as her triumphs. Wendy leaves no stone unturned, and goes to profound depths in her pursuit, but she does so with humor. Her satire was an ingenious approach to open the hearts and minds of her audience to explore those deeper issues.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, one of five siblings, Wendy was inspired by her maternal grandfather, a prominent, Polish Jewish playwright. After writing more than a half dozen successful plays and one screenplay, and giving birth to her daughter Lucy at the age of 48, Wendy succumbed to lymphoma, and died on January 30, 2006.
It has been an honor and a privilege to work on An American Daughter. We have amassed a dedicated, hard working ensemble, devoted to playing the sleuth in uncovering the deeper meanings of every line of this play. It has been a labor of love for all of us.
- Dr. Lyssa Dent-Huges: Margaret Bush
- Quincy Quince: Theresee Mc Nichol
- Judith Kaufman: Anita Jones
- Walter Abrahamson: Mark Lee Adams
- Morrow McCarthy: Richard Isaacs
- Timber Tucker: Cal Whitehurst
- Senator Alan Hughes: Ron Field
- Charlotte “Chubby” Hughes: Kim Gowland
- Jimmy the Camera Crew Chief: Edward Breitner
- Billy Robbins: Steven Haber
- Camera/Sound Assistant: Anna Lathrop
- Director: Barra Kahn
- Producer: Donald Neal
- Assistant Producer: Amanda Helms
- Stage Manager: Amanda Helms
- Assistant Stage Manager: Edward Breitner
- Set Design: Barra Kahn, Donald Neal
- Set Construction: Donald Neal, Dick Schwab
- Set Painting: Donald Neal
- Set Dressing: Barra Kahn, Margaret Bush, Donald Neal
- Lighting Design: Nancy Owens
- Assisted By: Douglas Olmsted, Jon Peterson, Robert Kraus, Carrie Vernon, Dick Schwab
- Sound Design: Alan Wray
- Properties: Edward Breitner
- Costume Design: Farrell Ann M. Hartigan
- Hair & Makeup: Bette Williams
- Graphic Design: Robert Kraus
- Playbill: Jennifer Lyman
- Photographer: Douglas Olmsted
- Publicity: Cal Whitehurst
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/2617.
Laura & Mike Clark started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.