On the same day that Hilary Rosen apologized to Ann Romney after her comments concerning the latter’s lack of a professional career set off another example of the media’s inability to keep perspective, Little Colonel Playhouse opened a new production of Wendy Wasserstein’s An American Daughter. The play – about a female candidate for Attorney General whose nomination is jeopardized by a seemingly minor mistake – while not the author’s best work is clearly still relevant in this election year climate. Though the mistake (inadvertently avoiding a jury duty summons) absurdly triggers a firestorm debate on the role of women in contemporary American society, it allows an examination of the key theme in this writers work: that women of her generation were given new social obligations without being released from the old ones.
Sadly, this particular production fails to capitalize on this resonance with mostly tepid, indifferent playing and some misconceived staging. Another week of rehearsal would have helped, as several of the cast struggled to remember lines and dropped cues freely, creating moments awkward enough to earn the audience’s empathy, if not their forbearance. And Wasserstein is a playwright with a gift for dialogue – smart, witty talk with edge that demands a quick pace and confident delivery to achieve its full impact – so that such sluggishness and uncertainty proves nearly fatal in the final result.
There were a few times when one or two actors managed some good effect, mostly in singular moments bordering on monologue. Grace Poganski came the closest to realizing the snappy pace and comic rhythms of Wasserstein’s dialogue, particularly in one scene with a cigarette holder; and Brad Castleberry was a solid professional presence as the nominee’s father, a conservative Republican senator, capturing the tender integrity of the character, if not the slick experienced politico it calls for. Vanessa Ferguson began to find some emotional depth in a fairly well-executed monologue as her best friend. But these were but promising moments and were not enough to lift this production beyond miscasting and a fundamental misunderstanding of the material.
The structure of the play includes some cut-aways to television interviews that were staged off to one side of the proscenium and projected onto a flat-screen monitor. But the effect seemed not fully thought out and was more distracting than anything else, with indifferent framing that minimized the actors and emphasized the background. The set design was functional but was never convincing as a Georgetown residence.
Ultimately, this is a missed opportunity that fails to produce more than a handful of laughs from a funny script and reduces thoughtful social satire to its most ponderous relationship to the audience. While Ms. Wasserstein’s writing here can sometimes be pedantic, this material can work if played with sharp timing and energetic delivery, both sorely lacking in this presentation. With luck, the quality of the performance may improve through the run. But the full potential of An American Daughter appears to be out-of-reach in this all-too-earnest effort.
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