Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the October 22,

2003 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

`The Good Daughter’

Whether it has been tales from the Brothers Grimm,

plays by Shakespeare, Chekhov and Wendy Wasserstein, or countless

novels and film scenarios, the conflict and jealousies between sisters

have remained literary and dramatic staples through the ages. In

"The

Good Daughter," now having its world premiere at New Jersey

Repertory

Company, playwright D.W. Gregory hasn’t broken any new ground in the

familiar genre so much as she has turned the melodramatic soil just

enough to make her characters appear fresh and vital.

"The Good Daughter" continues at the Long Branch theater,

Thursdays through Sundays, to November 9.

Set in a farming community in Northwest Missouri, the play’s action

occurs between 1917 and 1924, and mostly in and around the modest

homestead of Ned Owen (Davis Hall), a stolid God-fearing widower left

with three daughters to raise.

Here Ned’s determination to keep the farm going and survive the ever

unpredictable and threatening Missouri River is as pressing as his

desire to marry off his daughters to the first men able to provide

them with good homes and the basic necessities. Unsurprisingly, the

daughters, the men in their lives, not to mention the river, have

their own motivations. Under Jason King Jones’ sturdy un-fussy

direction,

the deluge of romance, regrets, recriminations, and rebellious

behavior

that propels "The Good Daughter," takes an almost retro

dramatic

course. But it is a course that, for all its contrivances, is

precisely

and skillfully constructed.

The eldest daughter, 20-year-old Cassie (Deborah Baum), is pretty

and openly discontent with her life on the farm and unwilling to

comply

with her father’s wish that she marry Rudy Bird (Brian O’Halloran),

an awkwardly amorous neighboring farmer for whom she has no feelings.

More conciliatory toward the house rules imposed by the somewhat

stiff-necked

Ned is Esther (Christine Bruno), the middle sister born with a

physical

defect who has, nevertheless, assumed many of the chores of her late

mother. Despite her father’s resignation that she is not likely to

marry, she also harbors romantic notions. These are secretly directed

to Matt McCall (David Foubert), the dashing college graduate and

civic-minded

activist, the son of a local shop owner. Matt has recently come back

to his hometown and set as his primary goal persuading Ned and the

townsfolk to build a levee to help protect the community.

Cassie’s infatuation and open flirting with the equally

rebellious Matt doesn’t go unnoticed by the youngest daughter,

15-year-old

Rachel (Lea Eckert), whose sweetness is tempered by her loyalty to

her father. A scheme, hatched between Cassie and Rachel to promote

a romance between Esther and Rudy, produces an unexpected consequence.

This is no less unexpected than the reason Cassie leaves home after

Matt decides to enlist in the Army. It is seven years later when

Cassie

returns home amid a flood of mixed emotions from the family and a

real flood courtesy of the Missouri River.

The play has a fine cast, all of whom are able to provide the subtler

and more pronounced changes their characters undergo. Baum’s change

from a free-spirit to a sadder and wiser Cassie is as impressive as

is Bruno’s blossoming as a self-realized Esther. Eckert is touching

as she reflects Rachel’s poignant transition from familial stability

into emotional instability, the result of a loveless marriage. It

is as revelatory a turn as the ones O’Halloran and Foubert are

required

to make as more mature and self-made men. Hall is excellent as Ned

who finds his fate is determined as much by a good daughter (which

one I won’t reveal) as it is by his steadfast trust in God’s

deliverance.

A torrential rain storm (a real curtain of rain), with thunder,

lightning

(lighting design by Jill Nable and sound by Merek Royce Press) is

impressive as is designer Fred Kinney’s barn-like structure that

adapts

to various locales. In general, the fine production values nicely

support this commendably involving play.

— Simon Saltzman

The Good Daughter, New Jersey Repertory Company, 179

Broadway,

Long Branch, 732-229-3166. Www.njrep.org. $30. Show runs Thursdays

through Sundays to November 9.


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