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Comedy Presents Three Generations of Daughters

April 6, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ ″Daughters″ is a comedy with a lot of life and spark, a rooted family sense and superb performances by all five women in it, four of them playing daughters.

It opened at the off-Broadway Westside Arts Theater on Thursday.

The play, which is definitely generational, is more about mother-daughter ties than gaps. It involves an Italian family, which allows a more emphatic conversational style than some. The family’s problems are real but some details serve the play, not reality.

Cute little old Grandma, played by Miriam Phillips in her 58th year in show business, totters into the kitchen and eats but doesn’t talk. She speaks only Italian, but it’s clear that she understands English. She gets one of the plays biggest laughs by giving her daughter a mighty shove when she tries to make her take a nap. The conversation is getting juicy and Grandma doesn’t want to miss anything.

Mom, played by Betty Henritze, and her younger, upwardly mobile daughter Patty Ann, played by a hip-wiggling Mary Testa, are a bit on the dumb side. Mom says anything that comes to mind, no matter how inappropriate, no matter how much trouble it will stir up. Most moms would have learned to be more self-protective than that, but stirred trouble advances the play and inappropriate is often funny.

Tessie, the older daughter, and her teen-age daughter Cetta, played with fire but believability by Marcia Rodd and Marisa Tomei, have brains and take- charge capabilities. Tessie’s husband has left her for a young waitress. Miss Rodd takes strong advantage of the chance to show her acting range, as the audience sees her before he leaves, during a breakdown and after.

Cetta goes through some changes, too, and Miss Tomei is nearly a match for the actress playing her mother. Miss Tomei, making her off-Broadway debut, is Marcy Thompson in TV’s ″As the World Turns.″

The men are offstage. Dad lies in another room, with larynx cancer, listening to recordings by Italian tenors. Patty Ann’s husband is playing around, which she either doesn’t know or is purposely ignoring. Patty Ann’s baby, a boy, is carried through in a bundle of blankets.

Playwright John Morgan Evans was born with the last name Apicella. ″Daughters″ began as a staged reading in Los Angeles in 1979, with Miss Rodd as Tessie. It was premiered in Cleveland in 1981 and performed in 1983 in Philadelphia.

″Daughters″ is Evans’ first play off-Broadway. He dedicates it to the late Audrey Wood, his first literary agent, who brought it to New York producers. The producers are Margery Klain and Dan Fisher. John Henry Davis directed and Kevin Rupnik designed the kitchen.

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