“A Daughter’s A Daughter” is one of the most meh titles I have ever read, and this confused play by Agatha Christie written under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott in the 1930s, put on hold until by World War II, and then finally published in 1954, doesn’t really change your mind. Under the Westmacott name, Dame Agatha did not publish mysteries but a total of six other stories.
. . . but it will make you question—how much do we owe our adult children, and how do we learn to forgive and trust they’ll do just fine?
In the play, we meet Ann Prentice (Heather Benjamin) who is eagerly waiting for her daughter Sarah (Mel Gumina) to return home after a three-year absence serving in Egypt in the ATS.
Anne, who as a widow had raised her daughter with the help of Edith (Mara Rosenberg), the cook/housekeeper, is bursting with the news that she has met a man, Richard Caulfield (Bruce Rauscher), and is engaged. In the meantime, before the train with her daughter arrives, everyone is talking warily about how best to broach the subject because Sarah can be high-strung.
For me, this is where the play breaks down; this is a young woman who has been on her own for nearly three years, doing war work overseas, and she’s described as “defenseless” and “fragile” and “highly-strung.” She must be cossetted and babied and kept on her good side.
So, Sarah comes bursting in the door, with a young soldier in tow, Jerry Lloyd (James Murphy), and immediately begins talking and just doesn’t quit. The character is petulant, childish, bossy, demeaning to her mother, spoiled and frankly, anything but fragile. She knows every button to push to guilt her mother into breaking the engagement and her mother loves her so much she is helpless before this onslaught. So ends Act I.
Act II picks up five years later—it’s the very early 1950s and the two women are still living together, albeit with little interaction. Both appear, on the surface, to be living life to the fullest with an endless parade of gaiety—dances and balls and dinners and parties and theatre and oh, just everything so bright. But the anger and resentment simmer underneath, coming out in little barbs and avoidance. It’s not tenable in the long-term, and the second act is primarily about how these changes come about.
This is a hard play—the characters aren’t particularly sympathetic, except, oddly enough, for Lloyd (the soldier) and Caulfield (the ex-suitor), and Dame Laura Whitstable (a majestic Kate Ives, as befitting the one character above the foibles and fray). Dame Laura wisely consoles and empathizes, but does not give advice—the woman understands boundaries. Murphy gives Lloyd an underpinning sorrow and anger—back then PTSD wasn’t dreamt of, but he recognizes how lost and off-kilter it is for the men coming back from war and just expected to take up their lives as if they had run down to the corner shop for a takeaway; he lets us see the struggle slip out from the facade. And Rauscher finds the bewilderment in his character—a man used to being in charge, getting his way (even though he genuinely appears to love Ann); he’s being outfoxed by a slip of a girl.
The other characters include Eric Kennedy as Lawrence Steen, a louche young man with a knack for cocktails; Chloey Garza as the very funny Doris Caulfield in the second act (she has perfected a laugh that perfectly captures her character); and Michael Bozzella as Basil Mowbray, another louche young man with a brutish side.
The Arlington Players do an admirable job with this script. They are ably assisted by spot-on period costumes of Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley; the set design by Dan Remmers and set decoration by Peter Mumford (where did he find so many doilies???); and the hair and makeup design of Susan Boyd. Director Ashley Amidon keeps the action moving briskly.
“A Daughter’s A Daughter” is an intriguing insight into Agatha Christie’s relationship with her own daughter (who was reported to not be fond of this play and novel—it was both); you might not like the characters particularly, but it will make you question—how much do we owe our adult children, and how do we learn to forgive and trust they’ll do just fine?
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.
“A Daughter’s A Daughter” runs through February 16, 2020, at the Thomas Jefferson Theatre, The Arlington Players, Arlington, VA. For more information, click here.