The Southwest Premiere Party at Main Street Theater
September 10, 1998

by Theresa Hyde

When Wendy Wasserstein decided to write An American Daughter, she probably has never even heard of Monica Lewinsky or of The Kenneth Starr Report. But the parallels between what this Visionary has foreseen and what is currently being played out right now in Washington are quite uncanny. In American Daughter, Wendy W. examines the Bill Clinton Predicament and comments on the political ramifications of Public Scrutiny.

And that's what everyone commented on during the party that followed after the stage performance. The Party, which was catered by The Original Tila's and Cafe Artiste occurred after the play opened on Thursday, September 10th. Along with the bubbly champagne, they served fashionably delicious slim and sleek conscious salmon and pate, although the crowd was quite opinionated and politically-boisterous. And the Apple Pie was too familiarly All-American.

AN AMERICAN DAUGHTER by Wendy Wasserstein. Rachel Hemphill as Dr. Judith Kaufman and Erica Garrison as Lyssa Dent Hughes. Photo by Doug Kilgore

An American Daughter concerns the nomination of a highly qualified women to be Surgeon General. The nominee, Lyssa Dent Hughes, is the liberal daughter of a conservative Senator and a direct descendant of Ulysses S. Grant. When a television reporter discovers that she once ignored a jury summons, the ensuing media frenzy threatens to destroy her nomination.

While still offering Wasserstein's style of quick, cutting humor that Houston audiences have come to love, An American Daughter marks a dramatic departure from her previous works, which focused on the vast terrain of women's personal choices. In this groundbreaking new work, Ms. Wasserstein begins to consider the consequences of women's choices in the larger world, through such colorful characters as Judith, a Jewish African-American doctor; Morrow, a young gay Republican; Quincy, a radical neofeminist; and Timber Tucker, an overambitious reporter.

According to Wasserstein, the initial inspiration for An American Daughter came from events early in the Clinton administration, primarily the scandal surrounding the discovery that attorney general nominee Zoe Baird had hired illegal aliens for child care. After weeks of miscroscopic examination, or as the press called it, "Nannygate", Baird, and eventually, the two women that would follow her, Judge Kimba Wood and Professor Lani Guinier, would remove their nominations. About this enlightening turn of events, Wasserstein says, "Whereas their contemporary femininity seemed at first their strength, it became their downfall. In other words, we hadn't come such a long way, baby."

Director Patti Bean on the set of AN AMERICAN DAUGHTER by Wendy Wasserstein at Main Street Theater

The Director for An American Daughter is Patti Bean. She has directed numerous productions at MST, including An Enemy of the People, The Woman in Black, Six Degrees of Separation, A Perfect Ganesh, Waiting for A Kiss, La Nona, Rebecca, Tainted Blood, Sherlock's Last Case, and Uncommon Women and Others. For Express Theater, she directed The Yellow Boat; at Chocolate Bayou Theater, she directed The Man in the Raincoat. As an actress, she has appeared at MST in The Witlings, Old Doves, King Lear, and Hamlet, as well as at Stages (Wings), Curtains (Nice People Dancin...), What If Productions and the JCC.

Theresa: I didn't quite recognize you at first because the last time I saw you was at The Witlings, where you were in big white hair and 18th Century costume. But after watching your performance as Mrs. Sapient, I realized that you were also the Director for the Henrik Ibsen play, An Enemy of The People, which was superbly directed. Which do you like better, performing or directing?
Patti: I'm a better director than I am an actor. I like either one. Which one I'm doing at the time, I enjoy but I think, Directing.

Theresa: How did you become a Director?
Patti: I studied Theatre in College and found out that I liked Directing. I did a little bit of both Acting and Directing in College, but I was working my way through College so I didn't do a lot of performing and learned that I had a thing for Directing there, and had good teachers. I think I'm better at it, it's just what I do.

Theresa: Why did you choose to direct a Wendy Wasserstein?
Patti: I was in the first production Main Street did, Uncommon Women and Others in 1979 and then, I directed a production of that a few years later. I was production manager at Main Street when we produced The Heidi Chronicles and I just love her work and when Becky (Rebecca Greene Udden, the Artistic Director) called me and asked me if I would do this, I said Yes, in a heartbeat. I love her work!

Theresa: Did you read the script first before you said Yes?
Patti: No, I said Yes and then read the script. I know of her writing, I mean, she's just great!

Theresa: What do you like about directing a Wendy Wasserstein play?
Patti: Her philosophies, her attitude, her words, her characters. So developed, so giving. They're just great things for actors to get into.
Theresa: What is the hardest part of doing a Wendy Wasserstein play?
Patti: (laughs) Her philosophies, her attitude, her words, her characters.
Theresa: (laughs) Why is that hard?
Patti: She's so smart. Helping actors make it as good as her work deserves. That's the hardest part.

Theresa: When I first read what it was about, a lady nominated for Surgeon General, I thought, "How do you write about that?" But she did it great, just classic Wendy Wasserstein. The characters, always so highly intelligent and successful , she made them all so human. She talked about sex, racial differences.......
Patti: She raises a lot of issues but she covers them well. (The politics and the media) I think she says it best. I think the crux of of it all, is that something so innocuous can be blown so out of proportion by both the press and the people of America, who as Chubby puts it, ".....don't have anything better to do......". And that's really a sad statement, but there's a lot of truth in it.

Theresa: Of all the Actors and Directors, who do you admire the most?
Patti: That's a hard question. I've worked with so many.......Well, Becky Udden is truly a mentor to me. She gave me my first directing job in Houston and has worked with me and supported me in my work in this theatre for twenty-something years. And she's also a great director. So, I'd say I look up to her. I have worked with so many fine actors in Houston, there's great actors in this city. This production has just been a joy to work on. And the actors I'm working with are fabulous and have worked very hard.

Theresa: The play's great, very well directed.
Patti: Why, thank you!

Andrew Dawson as Morrow McCarthy and Bill Hargrove as Timber Tucker

Theresa: As we proceeded to merge within the thick of the Party, the noise was deafening as everyone was so loud and boisterous. Much like a Republican Convention. Maybe it was the free-flowing champagne, or the thunderous rainstorm raging outside (our prayers were answered after that scorching summer) that prompted the loud crowd. But it was definitely the subject matter that stirred everyone's political opinions. I saw Theatre-enthusiast Sandra J. Bradbury, whose daughter Paige works for CNN in Atlanta. I asked her what she thought of the play.......

Sandra J. Bradbury: I thought it was very very funny, very well cast. VERY TIMELY, and well-acted. It was really good, I just like the whole thing.

Theresa: Making her MST debut, Rachel M. Hemphill plays Judith B. Kaufman. She has worked with the Ensemble Theatre as director of their Young Performers productions Not So Brave Prince and The Velveteen Rabbit and as an actress in A Raisin in the Sun and The Tap Dance Kid. She has also appeared with the Houston Shakespeare Festival (Two Gentlemen of Verona) and Stages (Mischief Makers). Her work in television includes regional commercials and a pilot, Goodfoot Brown. Ms. Hemphill holds an MFA from the University of Illinois - Urbana / Champaign. I asked about her role and about the play........

Rachel: I play an African American Jewish Doctor and I am best friends with Lyssa Dent Hughes who is the Surgeon General nominee. I thought it was really great that it covers a little bit of everything......looking at the President and where he stands on issues, VERY TIMELY, of course. The nanny-gate,'s timely because it's time for us to have women in power positions. (The play) makes you question where you are politically, even if you don't have a view on politics.

Theresa: Tell us about your background, are you from Houston?
Rachel: No. Actually, I moved here about a year ago from Chicago where I did the Theatre thing. I got a Masters in Theatre and decided I wanted to do it. Although Theatre for young audiences is really what I enjoy doing when it's issue-based. I do this (performing) because I love it too. I teach when I'm not acting.

Theresa: What are the differences between Houston and Chicago, theatre-wise?
Rachel: Well, of course in Chicago, it's busy. You should always be working if you're an actress. When I got here they said there were 8, 10, 12 big theatres. In Chicago there's 80 primary theatres and there's just a lot of work going on all the time. And it's good quality work. The houses that only have 10 chairs, that's good theatre there. And then you've got big houses that are fabulous too.

Andrew Dawson and Rachel Hemphill

Theresa: Then, we meet Andrew Dawson who plays the irresistible Morrow McCarthy. Mr. McCarthy's major accomplishments are as a seven-figure income Republican homosexual who's had a three-share on Charlie Rose. Pretty Major. Andrew Dawson has appeared in numerous productions at MST, including Joined At the Head, Arcadia, An Ideal Husband, Uncle Vanya, An Enemy of the People. He recently performed the one-man show, The Only Thing Worse You Could Have Told Me...., at The Little Room Downstairs. He also played 4 character in Main Street's A Festival of One-Act Plays. Mr. Dawson studied at Trinity University, The University of Houston, and the American Academy of Dramatic Art.

Andrew: I play Morrow McCarthy, he's a log-cabin Republican, gay-conservative man, best friends with Lyssa. Morrow likes to stir things up.
Theresa: (laughs) I love the way he described Judith B. Kaufman.......

Andrew: the Non-Practicing Heterosexual is putting a definite cramp on your joie-de-vive.

Theresa: What do you think about the political aspect and how it relates to what's going on now?
Andrew: I think it's VERY TIMELY and it says a lot about Washington and the media.

Powerful Women in Houston Theatre: Director Patti Bean, Producing Director Beverly Hutchison and MST Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden

Theresa: We also meet Writer-Producer-Director Beverly Hutchison. I asked her opinions about the play......
Beverly: I love it. I've never read it so everything they said was a complete surprise. But I thought it was beautifully cast and directed. I'm just saying to everyone in it that they all did a super job. , and it's so Relevant, it's creepy. And tomorrow, the whole world is gonna change, it's so relevant. The playwright couldn't possibly have foreseen what's going on. I know what the message that the playwright wanted us to get, it's that everyone in public life is under such scrutiny that it's almost impossible to be in the public eye.

Theresa: Beverly Hutchison is responsible for the recently staged 10x10 Play Festival by ScriptWriters Houston
Beverly: .......we cast it in June, we rehearse in July, and it goes on in August. Hopefully we get to do it here (Main Street Theatre) again. We did very well. I was in charge of it this summer too.

Joel Stark and Sue Mortenson

Theresa: Joel Stark plays Lyssa Dent Hughes' philandering husband Walter Abramson. Mr. Stark has appeared at MST in The Witlings, Lady Be Good, Good Housekeeping, Hapgood, and The Wonder. Elsewhere he has appeared in Inside / Out, The Actors Workshop, Theatre Southwest and Playhouse 1960. On television, he has appeared in Unsolved Mysteries, and in Oklahoma, he worked as a radio announcer for 2 years. Joel describes Walter's casual affair with Quincy Quince as having a mid-life crisis.

Joel: Walter is suffering, kind of a mid-life crisis. He has the unfortunate situation of doing it at a time when his wife is the subject of national media scrutiny, which is a BAD time to go into a mid-life crisis.

Theresa: What do you think about the political aspect......
Joel: It's great. It not only takes advantage of the TIMING, with all the national attention that's being paid to Washington right now, but it also speaks to contemporary audiences. It's accessible as television, it's accessible
as the movies, but you know, you get it in a live setting, which is really great.

Theresa: I remember your English Accent in The Witlings. Tell us about your background as an Actor.....
Joel: Well, Main Street first caught my eye because they were a theatre that did different pieces. They're a place where I could do different accents and dialects every show because they do everything. They do 17th Century
and then they'll do a contemporary piece set in D.C. like this. The variety attracted me and the professionalism, and I just came out of College a few years before I got here. I got my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting from the University of Oklahoma School of Drama.

Theresa: Then you came to Houston from Oklahoma?
Joel: Right. It's the nearest big city and it's just really piqued my interest. I'm gonna try and move to New York within the next couple of years.
Theresa: You did a great job, and you've very handsome. How old are you?
Joel: I'm 28, playing a 45-year old. Thank you. You're sweet.

Theresa: And of course, any Main Street Party wouldn't be complete without the presence of Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden. I asked her about her choices for the Main Street's New 1998-1999 Season......
Becky: It's the same way I pick my choices any year, it's a balance of contemporary, classic, and new plays. The next one we have coming up, Stonewall Jackson's House, I think will really raise some eyebrows. It's a really good examination of some issues that are really in the forefront. Just like this one is.

Obviously, An American Daughter is VERY VERY TIMELY. But, Stonewall Jackson's House is about the other dialogue that we're having as a country about cultural assimilation and political correctness. How artists interprets these issues. It's really great. Wendy Wasserstein, because of her stature as a circles of power. She may not be invited to the White House every night, but she went to one of these elite Eastern Girls School.

Theresa: An American Daughter is about a lot of things, but it could also be about that great American Daughter, Hillary Clinton. Wendy Wasserstein comments on the First Lady in a New York Times Op-Ed:

The First Lady who dared to take on health care reform has not been diminished to a popular soap opera heroine. Maintainnig the dignity of her marriage, difficult as that may be, is now seen as her greatest professional triumph. Of course, she may have had no choice - what else would anyone have done in such a situation? But the truth is, long before anyone had ever heard of Monica Lewinsky, Hillary Rodham Clinton was hardly a feminist icon. She has always sent confusing signals.

Now, the impressive personal qualities - idealism, strength, and poise under pressure - that she once directed toward influencing social policy are being used to maintain domestic tranquility. The name Hillary Rodham Clinton no longer stands for self-determination, but for the loyal, betrayed wife. She is moving further and further away from her role model, Eleanor Roosevelt, who used her perch as First lady to be an independent advocate.

Indeed, Mrs. Clinton's high approval ratings means she's currently appealing to a constituency - older, more conservative women - that had never supported her. Those who were threatened by a First Lady who was aggressive and professional are impressed by her ability to keep the home fires burning in dire circumstance. Pity and admiration have become synonymous.

-----Wendy Wasserstein, playwright
August 25, 1998 The New York Times, OP ED

Theresa: Of Course, no one can resist commenting on the predicament Bill Clinton is in. The whole situation has created such an uproar that personalities like Marilu Henner couldn't help talk about "that phosphourescent" substance in Monica Lewinsky's dress. What I'd like to know is, which really famous designer was it? Was it an Alaia, a Versace, an Armani, a Donna Karan, a Pamela Dennis, an Escada, or John Galliano, Badgley Mischka, a Vera Wang, or a Tom Ford Gucci? Or maybe it was that Sundress from The Gap for $19.99. Helen Gurley Brown, the original Cosmo girl is just "so sick" about the whole thing. When asked if Monica Lewinsky could be considered a Cosmo girl, Cindy Crawford commented on the fact that Monica couldn't possibly end up on the cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine because of her weight.

Erica K. Garrison doesn't have a problem with her weight. She plays the title role of An American Daughter, Lyssa Dent Hughes who is put in a very powerful, also vulnerable position as the Surgeon General nominee. Erica has appeared in MST in An Ideal Husband, Arcadia, Joined at the Head, and Julius Caesar. Elsewhere, she has appeared with the Houston Shakespeare Festival (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, Henry V), Urban Theatre Project (Equus), and Diverse Works (Saving Grace). Her film work includes the NBC miniseries, A Woman of Independent Means. Ms. Garrison holds a B.A. from the University of Houston School of Theatre. About An American Daughter, she says:

Erica: It's a very exciting part. I've had such a good time. I mean, it was difficult at first......after two weeks into rehearsal, we had a chance to play, I got to develop the character more than I have in most productions.

Rebecca Greene Udden and Erica K. Garrison in AN AMERICAN DAUGHTER

Theresa: You've got some great lines, these huge long monologues that everyone can identify with......
Erica: Particularly, when I say: "No, I haven't talked to the President. It's been a very busy week for him...." So, it's just VERY TIMELY. Which makes it very easy for us, and very believable for us to create characters that the audience can totally relate to.
Theresa: You play the Lead, which is a very complicated part.....
Erica: It took a lot of energy and a lot of study. I really put a lot of work into it. I actually went on the Internet quite a bit and researched the school she went to, Georgetown politics, Georgetown society; Lyssa Dent Hughes, Georgetown as it is now and Washington politics; I learned a little bit more about how that works; the media, I did a lot of researching on the Net. I looked up Wendy Wasserstein a lot. It's so timely, it's just perfect.

Theresa: Tell us a little bit about your background, are you from Houston?
Erica: Actually I am. I was raised here, I went to school here. Went to College at UT, finished up at UH and have done quite a few shows at Main Street. And I keep coming back because we have a really tight core of actors and we just keep growing together.

Theresa: Did you have to audition for the part?
Erica: (laughs) No, not really.
Theresa: Well, that's good!
Erica: Patti called me and asked if I would be interested, I said, "Well, I don't know much about the play, let me read it." And I read it, and I was sold. No, I didn't have to audition, I was very happy.
Theresa: That's great, that means that your reputation is wonderful.
Erica: It felt good. It's a compliment.
Theresa: And you practically carried the whole show.......

Erica: It's a wonderful part, it's a chance of a lifetime. I'm thrilled.

Theresa: We meet Carl Masterson who plays Senator Alan Hughes, and Sue Mortenson, the wife of Senator Alan Hughes. Carl is making his MST debut. Elsewhere, he has appeared with New Heights Theatre, Country Playhouse, Masquerade Theatre, and Company On Stage. Mr. Masterson studied at St. Thomas University and Texas A&M University.
Carl Masterson: I play Senator Alan Hughes, a Republican from Indiana, which I am not. It was a stretch. It was great. And he is the father of Lyssa Dent Hughes. They're in different parties, they have a lot of different ideas about things.

Theresa: What's the hardest part about playing The Senator?
Carl: Keeping myself from jumping up and ripping out Timber (Tucker)'s throat. That's the hardest part. (Timber Tucker is the aggressive television reporter that is played by the versatile Bill Hargrove).

Theresa: How do you relate what's going on with this play to current political situation that we have?
Carl: I try not to.

Theresa: Sue Mortenson looks wonderfully cool in a white ensemble. She plays Charlotte Hughes, affectionately called "Chubby" ("Even though I'm not!"), the Washington socialite wife of the Senator. Sue recently appeared at MST as Gorgeous in The Sisters Rosensweig. Elsewhere, she has appeared with Stages, Theatre LaB Houston, New Heights Theatre and Actors Workshop. Ms. Mortenson teaches dance and exercise classes and is also a personal trainer.

Sue Mortenson: I'm the fourth wife of a Senator. And he is my actual true love, I finally found it after all these years. It's been a real treat playing this, and it's been difficult after the last one (as Gorgeous Teitelbaum in Wendy Wasserstein's The Sisters Rosensweig) because I was kind of a ditzy blonde. And this one, the director kept telling me not to be blonde. So I had to spray my hair gray, and it's been a wonderful experience.

It is a great cast, we are so tight. And it's gonna be a great time, I really think so. From the very beginning, we were clicking. It's very strong, it's a great show. It's a smaller part, I don't usually take small roles, but I took it because I wanted to be involved in it. It's a very complicated piece. And you really have to pay attention to watch it. It's not fluff at all, and you have to pay attention to hear all the lines.

Theresa: Would you like to comment on the political aspect.......
Sue: Oh my gosh, the line, "The President has great family values....."(laughs). She (Wendy W.) clicked in on it way before, and it's what's going on right now.

Joel Stark plays the philandering husband Walter Abramson

Theresa: And finally, we meet Quincy Quince played by the pretty and petite Kim Sevier, but one who can really pack a punch. Kim is making her MST debut. She has appeared with 10x10 (1997 and 1998), the Women's Play Festival, Theatre Lab Houston, The Group Theatre Workshop, Skyline Theatre and Theatre Suburbia. She has done extensive voice over work for animated films and in radio and television.

Kim Sevier: I play Quincy Quince, and it's just such an honor to be in the show. I really think we have a strong cast. The show, by Wendy Wasserstein was well-written. It's funny but it's a cerebral sort-of comedy.
When I first read the script, honestly, I had to take it home and look up a dozen words in the dictionary and start watching CNN. Just to do a little research, you know? It's a great show.

Theresa: You play the part of a woman that everybody loves to hate. And you did such a great job with it that I found you really irritating and annoying. She was so eloquent and accomplished, she's written a book, I really hated her.
Kim Sevier: (laughs) Well, good, good. I'm glad she was Effective. That's what I was going for but I was hoping that she had layers still. I mean I still wanted her to be a person even though she does several questionable
things, several unethical things.

Theresa: Tell us about your background......
Kim Sevier: Been doing theatre for about two years here in town. I do a lot of voice over work for Radio and Television. I do all the Garden Ridge Pottery spots, do a lot of work for KTRK. I do a lot of English overdubs for Japanese animated films and I co-host a weekly cable TV show called TV Montrose. So, starting to do some work around town, it's been very nice and I thank my lucky stars that I'm busy. This is where my heart is, it's my favorite, this is what I love to do.

Theresa: Are you originally from Houston?
Kim Sevier: Yes, Native! Native Houstonian.

Theresa: Would you like to comment on the political aspect of the play and current events?
Kim Sevier: Well, I think there are a lot of parallels. And that's what I like about Wendy Wasserstein's work. She has a tendency to write stuff that's TIMELY, even after it's written. And I think this particular show, An American Daughter is an illustration about how the media, a lot of times, take a pure and simple tiny little thing and blows it way out of proportion. And I think it's a reflection on our society and what we expect of our political icons today.

And not just political, but everybody, I mean we expect them to be perfect. If we were, we wouldn't be here. 'Know what I mean? I really think that it's just an unreal expectation, it's just not realistic. To me, it was a look at how a female fits into the world. It's a wonderful illustration about how sometimes we can be strong and stand up and say, "No! This isn't the way that it should be, and it's not the way it's gonna be for me." To me, Lyssa Dent Hughes is a very strong and brave and wonderful woman.

Director Patti Bean on the set of AN AMERICAN DAUGHTER. The portrait is an ancestral reminder for Lyssa Dent Hughes, who is a direct descendant of Ulysses S. Grant.

Theresa: Only Wendy Wasserstein could have pulled this off......
Kim Sevier: I agree. I admire her writing very much.
Theresa: Did you have to audition for the part?
Kim Sevier: Yeah, I did audition. As a matter of fact, they've already had auditions and a friend of mine who I had worked with recently, said, "You need to go do this, they're having callbacks tomorrow night." And I said, "No, I didn't audition, how come I should go to callbacks?" And he said, "Would you mind if I gave them your number?" and they decided to get in touch. I came to callbacks and I read and it was one of those moments that it just happened to work really well. I sort of fell into it. It was one of those weird wrinkles in the universe where you go, "Okay, Thank you." Because this was very nice.

Theresa: An American Daughter will be running through Sunday, October 11, 1998 at Main Street Theater's Chelsea Market location, 4617 Montrose Boulevard. Tickets are available by calling 713-524-6706.