THE LAST DAUGHTER: Poignant World Premiere at Footlighters in Berwyn

by Paul Recupero

Left to Right: Andrea Ambs (Maggie Munroe) and Mia Mbuy (Melesse Benudis), in a scene from the World Premiere production of THE LAST DAUGHTER at Footlighters Theater in Berwyn, PA. (Photo credit: Will Rompala)

It’s exciting to have the opportunity to review a play’s world premiere.  It’s the script’s first venture into the dangerous land of lights, sound, set and a living, breathing audience.  Prior to curtain, I knew very little of the plot of THE LAST DAUGHTER, and thus had no idea what to expect.  Two and a half hours later, I left Footlighters pleased and satisfied to have seen a well put-together and solidly written show.

Normally, I avoid including synopses in my reviews for the sake of space and to keep reader interest, but in this case it’s necessary.  THE LAST DAUGHTER is a family drama.  Shortly after the death of Rosemary Peck to cancer, her loyal son Allen, estranged daughter Maggie, and ex-husband Gene gather in a side room of a New York mortuary to view Rosemary’s video will.  Unsurprisingly, she has decided to leave her estate to her adult children, but then she drops a bombshell.  She confesses that she is actually Jewish—an Israeli immigrant who has been living a lie all her life.  Further, she has made a condition of her will that her estate not be distributed until and unless the last daughter of the Jewish family line, Maggie, travels to Israel to spread her ashes.

Allen and Maggie act out in various emotions—denial, anger, sorrow—until they finally accept the truth that they are Jews.  Their attempts to come to terms with this revelation causes strain on their relationship, especially when Maggie initially resists the idea of carrying out the required task, which would result in the estate never being probated.

THE LAST DAUGHTER is penned by local writer, Patricia Cacek.  (I wish the playbill had included a bio or playwright’s note identifying her previous work because I’m interested.)  She demonstrates a real talent for creating believable characters.  Middle-aged Maggie (played enthusiastically here by Andrea Ambs) is a good natured free spirit with a great sense of humor, even (or perhaps especially) during difficult times.  She’s single, has no children, and possesses no real sense of purpose, which likely was exacerbated by her falling out with her mother.  Her younger brother Allen (suitably portrayed by Carey Rumpf) is a conservative family man, with a (gentile) wife and two children.  His rational, serious demeanor runs in direct contrast to his sister, often resulting in their butting heads, to good effect.  As the play progresses, more past surprises are unearthed, which drive Maggie to the only sensible resolution.

As mentioned, Cacek writes extremely well.  Despite the weightiness of the subject matter, she has interspersed ample jokes and subtle cracks throughout.  In another play, this may have been inappropriate, but here the humor blends well with nonconformist Maggie, and keeps the audience interest level high.  Overall, Footlighters’ production, aptly directed by David Ben Leavitt, is engaging, featuring a nicely designed set, props and costumes.  The performers entertain throughout, and the audience enjoyed numerous unexpected laughs.

Ginny Pickles (Rosemary Peck), Carey Rumpf (Allen Peck), Andrew Maksymowych (Gene Peck) are members of the cast of THE LAST DAUGHTER at Footlighters Theater. (Photo credit: Will Rompala)

I do have a few constructive comments.  At two and a half hours, I felt the show ran too long for the subject matter it covered, rendering some portions redundant.  The majority of the play moved at a good clip, but there were segments where the pacing stalled.  This comment is directed primarily at the script itself.  I feel thirty minutes could have been trimmed here and there without sacrificing plot or characterization.  For example, an early scene between Maggie and her neighbor/boyfriend Sam (James Reese) dragged to some degree.  This is no slight to Mr. Reese, but there was very little conflict between his character and Maggie, and his character’s purpose seemed inflated.  If Cacek plans to revisit the script, I would take a closer look at this segment in particular.

Also contributing to the longish run time were the slow scene changes.  It appears that a second intermission was added simply to cover one of the larger transitions.  The primary culprit was the lack of sufficient stage hands.  A couple more bodies backstage would have sped the process along.

I’m privileged to be the first reviewer (to my knowledge) to write a piece about this absorbing play.  Cacek and Footlighters should be proud of their accomplishment.  I hope Cacek continues to workshop and revisit her script because I feel the play, as strong as it currently stands, harbors further untapped potential.  THE LAST DAUGHTER is well worth a trip to Berwyn.

Written by Patricia Cacek
Directed by David Ben Leavitt
January 20 – February 4, 2012
Footlighters Theater
58 Main Avenue
Berwyn, PA 19312

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