You just might want to see this finely crafted and multi textured production at least three times to fully grasp the artistic merits and musical majesty presented at The Public Theater in its intimate Anspacher space where you enter the surreal world of Michael John LaChiusa who has written book, lyrics and music – weaving fact and fantasy in this four part Suite featuring the daughters and mothers and ghosts of first families in a house that can never be a home.
It’s the imagined “inside scoop” of how these women cope with their decision to follow the life of living in the White House. They are not happy campers. Even if they pretend to be. They have made a choice and have to deal with the consequences.
It’s daring. It’s dishing the dirt on a higher plane. They are disturbed by their disturbing choices and we get to watch them up close – warts and all.
Mr. LaChiusa has thrown down the gauntlet, challenging his actresses to rise to the occasion and do they ever. It’s a fascinating – and entertaining look into the pressures and the problems and the psychology of the daughters and mothers in four vastly different vignettes. Serious. Sad. Melancholy. Bitchy. Disturbing. Wild. Confrontational.
HAPPY PAT. She is anything but. Tricia is about to be married June 1972. Pat prim and tense and trying to keep the calm between the two sisters smokes and sips a martini while dealing with Nixon’s mother Hanna – a ghostlike thorn in addition to the impending rain that might spoil the outdoor ceremony.
Barbara Walsh is at the very top of her game here as Pat. Caissie Levy as Julie also astounds as Patti Davis. Betsy Morgan as the impatient bride-to-be Tricia does likewise as Susan Ford and Theresa McCarthy as Hannah Nixon returns as the ghost of Robin Bush.
AMY CARTER’S FABULOUS DREAM ADVENTURE. Spring 1980. On deck of the Presidential Yacht. Cocktails and the Iran crisis. A calm Rosalynn (Rachael Bay Jones) focused on a book tries to quiet little rambunctious Amy (Carly Tamer) while Betty Ford (Alison Fraser) wants to dance and drink – looking dazzling and doing high kicks and a split while they go off to Iran shooting photos and people alongside Susan Ford (Betsy Morgan).
PATTI BY THE POOL. November 1986. Sunning themselves at Betsy Bloomingdale’s pool a frosty Nancy (Alison Fraser) – in a knock out Reagan Red bathing suit ensemble all but ignores Patti (Caissie Levy) – in full Madonna combat mode who flaunts her best-selling tell all book. More talk than singing here but powerful stuff as the maid Anita (Isabel Santiago) first ignores Patti and then helps Nancy find a solution.
IN THE DEEP BOSOM OF THE OCEAN BURIED. Kennebunkport, Maine. October 2005. Barbara Bush – a phenomenal Mary Testa steadfastly and stoically refuses to help her son on the 50th anniversary of her daughter Robin’s death. Theresa McCarthy seemingly floats in and out. Laura Bush (Rachael Bay Jones) tries to mend fences between mom and George. A son that Bar believes to be mediocre and misguided. A huge disappointment.
The entire cast excels dramatically and vocally. They delve deeply into each character trying to resolve their problems. Politics and pressure take their toll on the battleground of THE FIRST DAUGHTER SUITE. It’s horrifying and humorous – melancholy and disturbing. And vivid.
The creative team – led by the outstanding director Kirsten Sanderson make this the theatrical event of the season: Choreography Chase Brock – Scott Pask (scenic designer) Costume Design (Toni-Leslie James) Lighting Design (Tyler Micoleau) Sound Design (Ken Travis) Orchestrations Michael Starobin and Bruce Coughlin and Wig and Hair Design (Robert-Charles Vallance).
Welcome to the amazing world of MICHAEL-JOHN LaCHIUSA. Extended off-Broadway through November 22nd.
Photos: Joan Marcus
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