An American Daughter

A WBBN News Radio 78 Theatre Review by Sherman Kaplan
Broadcast September 17, 1998

Wendy Wasserstein's 1997 political satire An American Daughter may be upstaged by somewhat more topical events in Washington these days, but her musings about the nomination of an activist female physician to be Surgeon General of The United States is as trenchant as anything Wasserstein has written, and that includes The Sisters Rosenzweig.

An American Daughter is being performed at Organic Theatre, 2851 North Halsted under the direction of Ina Marlowe. It is clear that many of the diverse characters in this play are symbolic and are the sort of people who congregate together only in theatrical or literary imagination.

Judy Blue plays Lissa Dent Hughes, whose nomination by The President to be Surgeon General after two previous nominees have been rejected is the starting point from which An American Daughter takes off. Lissa is married to Walter, her high school sweetheart now a sociology professor at Georgetown. Terence Gallagher has the role. Despite his own successes in the field of academia. Walter at 47 is feeling all the inadequacies which come with growing older. not the least of which is the realization that his wife has achieved more than has he.

Now, Wasserstein's characters begin to grow a little flaky. Judith, Lissa's best friend played by Ora Jones, is a cancer surgeon, who is both Black and Jewish She is also unable to conceive, a fact which prompts her lament, "I can't make life; I can't stop death." Jones gives a realistic dimension to a difficult character.

Among other denizens of Lissa's world is her father, a conservative Indiana senator and his fourth wife. He is supportive of his daughter. even though their politics are divergent. His wife is supportive of her husband, which does not necessarily mean she is as supportive of Lissa.

Walter, meanwhile has been having an affair with a student, Quincy Quince, a radical feminist who takes to wearing leopard skin patterned mini dresses marked by floral prints. Yet another friend, Morrow is a gay news paper columnist who happens to be anti abortion. If nothing else, these characters are a study in contrast. Lissa is ultimately brought down by a revelation by Morrow to a TV reporter that Lissa some years ago missed a jury duty summons. Such are the indiscretions upon which political appointments can founder.

With this array of characters at her disposal. playwright Wasserstein creates some genuinely hilarious dialogue. but with the turn ofd line she brings out a deep empathy with and sympathy for her characters. particularly the barren oncologist Judith. Wasserstein has punched up this particular production with a few references to the current Washington imbroglio, references which frankly are not needed. The problems faced by Lissa, including a wayward and insecure husband. a Cabinet nomination brought down by something completely trivial. an overzealous reporter. and a friend truly in more need than is she are grist enough. It's really a brilliant piece of theater. An American Daughter continues through October 25 at Organic Theatre, 2851 North Halsted.

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