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Susanne Marley, Peter Brouwer, and Anne DuPont in God's Daughter
(Photo © Kim T. Sharp)
It's an interesting device, having a hard-bitten, self-styled New York intellectual serve as narrator in a drama about an illness infused with pathos. But in God's Daughter, it's disconcerting when Cori Archer, played on too strident a single note by Anne DuPont, starts off stumped as to "Who said that 'you can't go home again?'" That's Lit 101, so we're already dubious as to her bona fides. Throw in a publisher who's a bundle of clichés -- Jim Ireland tries but fails to channel the shade of George Plimpton -- and you've got an audience instantly alienated, not in a good way.

It's not until Cori journeys reluctantly to her childhood home in Florida to check in on her father, a former Baptist preacher, that we enter a realm bordering on realism. Veering between hortatory flashbacks and befuddled musings that trail off into nothingness, dad (the marvelous Peter Brouwer) descends into what his caretaker, Winnie Sutherlin (the equally fine Susanne Marley) calls "the Alzheimer's."

Cori appears to have a chip on her shoulder, not to mention a stick up another part of her anatomy, when it comes to this seemingly kind older woman. The reason is eventually revealed -- no terrible shock here. What's shocking, continually, is Cori's brattiness toward the supposed interloper and others; she needles her addled father relentlessly and also turns on the studly young good old boy (Ireland again, this time in a role that seems to fit him like a pair of faded Levis) whom she drags home from a bar for a bit of in-your-face frolicking.

Cori's character is vexing as well as unlikable; it's hard to tell whether the fault lies with the role as written or with DuPont's one-dimensional take. The structure, wherein Cori addresses the audience with embittered commentary every few minutes, undermines and disrupts our growing emotional investment in a sad story whose ending is implicit from word one.

Director Alex Dmitriev might have insisted on more shading from DuPont and might also have kept Ireland from making some of his poorer choices. But the Abingdon Theatre Company is to be commended for its commitment to producing new American plays -- this one was honed through several readings and a preliminary production -- and the beautifully calibrated, deeply affecting performances of Brouwer and Marley are reason enough to immerse oneself in this twilight world.

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