THEATER REVIEW: “An American Daughter” @ Williamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Macey Levin
Almost 20 years ago Wendy Wasserstein’s An American Daughter was produced by Lincoln Center Theater; it received mostly mixed reviews and had a relatively short run. Not being one of Wasserstein’s major plays – i.e. The Heidi Chronicles or The Sisters Rosensweig – it has seldom been revived. The Williamstown Theatre Festival has taken a chance to bring it back in the midst of the current, very ugly presidential campaign. A number of the issues addressed in the play are, regrettably, still with us and, in some cases, exacerbated.
Lyssa Dent Hughes (Diane Davis) has been nominated to become the next surgeon-general. She is the daughter of Senator Allen Hughes (Richard Poe) from Indiana and is married to Walter Abrahmson (Stephen Kunken), a PhD. sociologist who is living in his past. Lyssa is well-equipped to fill the position given her background as a crusading physician whose major cause is women’s health. This does seem to be something of a hindrance (sound familiar coming from today’s political arena?)
Walter lets slip the fact that Lyssa ignored a summons to jury duty. The very plausible explanation in light of her professional responsibilities and being the mother of young twin boys is that it was misplaced. A participant in this conversation is an old self-involved, highly conservative friend Morrow McCarthy (Roe Hartrampf). He is invited to a brunch the next day in Lyssa’s home that is going to be filmed by television commentator Timber Tucker (Jason Danieley) and his crew for a news program.
Morrow, not so inadvertently, mentions the jury duty foul-up. When it is brought up in the interview a brouhaha develops which endangers Lyssa’s appointment. In addition, she refers to her mother as “an Indiana housewife” who made ice box cakes and canapes. This results in her being criticized as being condescending. Her “favorable” ratings go down (has this happened recently?), and she is given advice by everyone on how to handle the situation. The best and simplest advice comes from her father’s fourth wife Charlotte “Chubby” Hughes (Deborah Rush), who tells her to recognize the error and, more importantly, protect her family.