FAMILY DRAMA: “Run the Course” and “Daddy’s Girls”: A Review

Run the Course and Daddy’s Girls is a duo of short plays by Norma Mortimer and directed by Laurie Rae Waugh, now being performed together at Manhattan’s American Theatre of Actors.  Both plays deal with family drama, albeit via two very different stories. Despite their differences in content and styles, both pieces have the benefit of getting audiences invested in the characters and plots in their relatively brief running times: always a positive phenomenon when it comes to theater.  

The first of the two dramas is Run the Course, which takes its title from a sentence nestled within the pivotal “suicide note” of the play’s plot.  The normalcy of an assumed ordinary afternoon is interrupted when Marty (Manny Rey), a “man Friday” of sorts to an affluent household, announces to matriarch Anita (Amy Losi) and secretary Stephanie (Rooki Tiwari) that there has been an unexpected death: specifically, a death by cyanide poisoning.  Later, the three are joined by David (Tony Scheer), a family friend and business associate.  But there is a fifth character in this family drama: one who is only seen in a portrait above the fireplace but who turns out to be a major figure in Run the Course.  That character is “Walter”.  Walter, the head of the family business, was the estranged husband of Anita, the not-so-secret lover to Stephanie, and… the one who was found dead by Marty.  Through the conversations about Walter, we learn that he was at best a stubborn perfectionist and at worst a toxic personality to all those around him.  The audience also learns that there’s more to this seemingly cut-and-dried tragic event that meets the eye.  The aforementioned suicide note, as it turns out, offers some clumsy clues that the suicide… well, was possibly NOT a suicide after all.  What we do know for sure is that the now-widowed Anita and the lonely David have jointly inherited the business, Marty has gained new powers as head of the household, and Stephanie flees the scene altogether. Think you know what happened yet?  Expect the unexpected!… As the play progresses, many revelations about the characters come out of the woodwork, and there are not one but TWO major plot twists. 

Out of all the actors, Amy Losi is a standout as Anita, with both the actress and the character taking control as the most dynamic presence in Run the Course. Even as we learn more about Anita’s surprising past, she still presents herself as a class act and still gains sympathy from the audience throughout the play’s 48-minute running time.  While some serious issues are explored in Run the Course, the latter half of the play has the characters discussing the play’s dark plot twists (including the “M” word) as casually as discussing the choice of cocktails for the evening– which, intentionally or not, seems to give the piece some touches of black comedy.  Part of me was wondering if Anita’s character should have had more “motherly intuition” and maybe have suspected the play’s final disclosure all along.   And then there was the idiosyncratic relationship between Anita (AKA Walter’s wife) and Stephanie (AKA Walter’s girlfriend), which was teasingly undefined.  The two women were clearly cordial enough to go to the theater together.  Were they unlikely friends?  Was it a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” relationship? 

Overall, the open ending of Run the Course was a welcome challenge to the audience.

Daddy’s Girls, the second play in this theatrical diptych, also takes place in an affluent household: in this case, the home of married couple Fanny (Amanda Cannon) and Charlie (Michael Bordwell).  The couple’s tranquil Sunday morning of donuts and coffee is interrupted by a visit from Fanny’s widowed father (Ken Coughlin).  Fanny’s somewhat ostentatious father is inviting them to brunch at “the club”, which may seem innocuous but is actually symbolic of a larger problem: The “Daddy” of this play’s title is very possessive of his only child Fanny, his eternal “little girl”.  Much to Charlie’s dismay, he often shows up at their house unannounced. The Dad Who Came to Dinner is now upping the ante: He wants to move in with Fanny and Charlie, even offering to pay for an attachment to their house.  The pragmatic Fanny comes up with any idea: She hires Mitzi (Sky Spallone), the naive, somewhat childlike 22-year-old daughter of the couple’s housekeeper, to be a combination of caregiver/companion for Daddy.  Even before Fanny opines, “He’ll probably treat her like another daughter”, astute audience members may know where this is going before it actually happens. As with Run the Course, all I can say is, “Expect the unexpected!”  Indeed, neither Fanny or Charlie expects the relationship of Mitzi and “Daddy” to take the course it does: particularly when the pair decide to take a three-month trip together.  And, that’s just the beginning… Even THIS reviewer didn’t expect the big surprise.

Daddy’s Girls benefits from fine acting from all four performers, with the play exploring some realistic themes with uninhibited directness.  If Run the Course had some unintentional dark humor, Daddy’s Girls features some outright funny moments.  Those funny moments come from the comedic talents of Michael Bordwell as Charlie, as well as the realistic marital chemistry between Bordwell and Cannon as husband and wife.  The actors successfully play a couple who enjoy a comfortably romantic union. Cannon expertly expresses the complex emotional challenge of being demoted to “the other girl”.  Coughlin is perfectly cast as the man known only as “Daddy” (We never learn his real name.), while Spallone is charming as Mitzi, even if the actress sometimes seems too sophisticated to play a young woman with a unique learning disability.  As with Run the Course, Daddy’s Girls also has an open ending of sorts: We don’t know exactly what will happen with these characters.  That said, the ending does offer a much-welcome high note, again made believable by the aforementioned interplay of Bordwell’s Charlie and Cannon’s Fanny.

Run the Course and Daddy’s Girls continues through Sunday, March 13th at The American Theatre of Actors, 314 W 54th St, NYC, Wednesday through Saturday at 8PM and Sunday at 3PM. Call (212) 581-3044 or visit Run the Course & Daddy’s Girl – American Theatre of Actors for tickets and more information.

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