April 29, 2007


ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Live Theater
Scene on Stage
By Philip Dorian
5 Women + 76 Years + 4 Generations = Daughters

Top-notch entertainment at Monmouth Players

Has Monmouth County cornered the market on female acting quintets? Last year five women scored a hit wearing the same dress and five others made new sense of Nunsense, both at the Eatontown Playhouse. Now, at Monmouth Players, yet another five comprise the cast of Daughters, making the tally three-for-three and fifteen-for-fifteen.

Daughters is a slice-of-life comedy-drama about four generations of Italian women. It's set in the mid-1980s in a Brooklyn kitchen, where a mother and two grown daughters bicker over the proper medical treatment of the father, who lies in an adjoining room, stricken with throat cancer.

The sandwich-generation gap widens to include the mother's own 93-year old mother as well as her 17-year-old granddaughter - daughter in turn of one of the middle-aged women on scene.

With a 76-year age span of related women in one small kitchen, you might expect life styles and values to clash, and you'd be right. In random order, the volatile gals' expound on marriage, fidelity, divorce, child-rearing, money, food - you name it, they cover it. Rarely do they agree, but you get the sense that their family bond will withstand their conflicts. Marinara is, after all, thicker than water.

Mom is an old fashioned pain in the family neck, constantly comparing one daughter to the other while plying them with lasagna and mahnigot'. She has no idea how irksome is her lack of discretion, and Carla Zackson Heller plays her innocence to comic effect.

Elder daughter Tessie (Siobhan Krier) is a psychological mess. Coping with a nattering mother, a philandering husband and her own enlightened daughter has taken its toll. Through various mood swings, Tessie lurches from assertive to sad to funny and back again. Krier makes every manic move without overdoing any one. (And this Siobhan - Siobhan - nails Tessie's Italian-ness.)

No less nuanced is Chelsea Rappel as Tessie's "too old for her years" 17-year old daughter Cetta. This mother-daughter combo is the heart of the play, and the two actors actually seem genetically connected. Not the least of their (and Ms. Heller's) accomplishments is the spot-on Italian-flavored Brooklynese accent.

At first glance, Liz Mahon appears miscast as daughter Patty Ann. Among the dark-hued DiAngelo women, she's fair-skinned, blond and relatively accent-free. But in fact, she fits the role. In Tessie's sisterly assessment, Patty Ann "lost some weight, moved to Long Island, and thinks she's Jackie Onassis." Mahon plays Patty Ann's sense of superiority without neglecting the sadness that has crept into her not-so-idyllic Long Island existence.

Great-grandma (Amy Garland), who shambles in a couple of times with a walker, is wordless. That doesn't stop her from making a vital contribution to her poignant scene with Cetta. Garland proves that less can be more.

Believable on-stage relationships don't happen in a directorial vacuum. Paul Renick's Brooklyn background, known to me, is evident. Despite some prolonged, sit-still staging (In the DiAngelo kitchen? No way!), this play is well directed. Paul and Lori Renick are also responsible for the accurate kitchen setting.

Judging by name, playwright John Morgan Evans is neither female nor Italian, but his play captures the essence of both. It's deceptively funny, with a lot to say about some serious topics. That mix makes Daughters a real audience-pleaser, and the Monmouth Players production seconds that opinion.

Read the original review on the Two River Times Web site