by Nora Onley
Wendy Wasserstein's "An American Daughter" is a witty comedy about political manners and the twentieth century woman. Wasserstein has turned out another winner in her series of all-American comedies with poignant and cutting dialogue.
Director Molly Smith makes good use of the small stage, transforming it into a comfortable suburban house that allows the actors to be completely comfortable and spontaneous. The set is a classic Georgetown: a middle to upper class household with oriental rugs, a chandelier, and a picture of a famous dead president. The scattered toys and newspapers make the set feel like home. In between and during each scene, music from the '60s and '70s, including the Beach Boys and Wilson Pickett added to the mood of each individual scene.
"An American Daughter" is a commentary on politics and the press. Lyssa Hughes (Johanna Day) has been nominated to be Surgeon General, and she must juggle being a mother, a wife, and political campaigner. A transgression in her past threatens Lyssa's nomination, while her support system of her friends and family are buckling under various pressures. Lyssa's best friend and fellow doctor, Judith Kaufman (Gail Grate), is ending a marriage and desperately wants a child.
Walter Abramson (J. Fred Shiffman), Lyssa's husband, is tempted by a younger woman. Morrow (Damon Gupton), and old family friend, proves to be detrimental to Lyssa's campaign.
To save her threatened career, Lyssa seeks the aid of her father, Senator Alan Hughes (Robert Prosky), and his media consultant (David Fendig). Billy Robbins, (Fendig) begins to change Lyssa's image to make her more appealing. Lyssa must now decide if the position she wants worth compromising her views.
Prosky (who has appeared in 35 films, including Mrs. Doubtfire) and Laurie Kennedy, who plays his wife, Charlotte 'Chubby' Hughes, are a delightful pair who match each other perfectly. Kennedy has a frivolous, ignorant charm about her and Prosky plays the perfect concerned and affectionate dad. Gupton plays a gay journalist who is the outlet for all the comedy concerning politics, race, and homosexuality. Gupton shares the best lines with Quincy Quince (Holly Twyford), the neo feminist who clashes with Lyssa about everything from woman's sexuality
to Lyssa's husband.
Even though most of "An American Daughter" was comedic, it had somber scenes, and sometimes the actors had difficulty making the transition from zinging comedy to drama. Especially Shiffman, who during a scene in which he was supposedly crying, seemed to be an actor from a school play.
But in truth I shouldn't be throwing any critical stones. During the first five minutes of the play, right after an announcement to turn off all cell phones, ringing began. I was sure it wasn't me, because I had carefully turned off my phone. I am one of those annoyingly responsible people who will give anyone talking to me during a movie a dirty look. But by some odd and cruel twist of fate, it was my phone, and for the rest of the performance, whenever a phone rang in a scene, I jumped up, which in the end may have added to the suspense of the play.
An American Daughter" is a biting comedy that touches on important, sensitive issues, but Wasserstein manages to make them all comical with finesse and grace.