Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award®-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein’s 1997 political drama An American Daughter, playing Sept. 21-24 at Theatre in the Park under the direction of Shawn Stewart-Larson, could not be more timely. With U.S. Sen. Hillary (D-NY) champing at the bit to run in the 2008 presidential race, what could be more appropriate than this cautionary tale about Dr. Lyssa Dent Hughes (Betsy Henderson), a fictional nominee for U.S. Surgeon General who unexpectedly finds herself at ground zero of a political firestorm when ultra-ambitious cable newscaster Timber Tucker (J.J. Walter) seizes on a trivial blemish in her otherwise spotless record of public service as his ticket to stardom on one of network television.

Betsy Henderson gives a gritty performance as the calm center of the escalating media frenzy, and once again proves why she is one of the Triangle’s finest actresses. In look, gesture, and dialogue delivery, she has a rare eloquence. It is a real treat to watch Henderson steam—and ultimately erupt—while Timber Tucker and his ilk make a bigger and bigger mountain out of the infinitesimal molehill that is the only blemish in Lyssa’s otherwise exemplary record of achievement as wife, mother, and nationally known health-care expert.

J.J. Walter is likewise excellent as the boyishly handsome but heartless cable news reporter and would-be talking head on ABC, CBS, or NBC; and Jason Weeks smoothly handles the tricky role of Walter Abrahamson, Lyssa Hughes’ increasingly concerned husband and a once-famous liberal academic whose own personal peccadilloes also surface while his wife fries on the media hotseat. Sheila M. O’Rear is a pistol as Dr. Judith B. Kaufman, Lyssa’s fearlessly outspoken Jewish African-American best friend whose valiant efforts to defend Lyssa fall on willfully deaf media ears.

Kelly Rebecca McConkey is a real pistol as pretty hip-swinging neo-feminist author Quincy Quince, a leggy former student of Walter Abrahamson who has a not-so-secret crush on her favorite professor; and TIP mainstay Eric Carl is a pepperpot as gay conservative political commentator Morrow McCarthy, whose cheeky offhand quip about a tiny chink in the shining armor of his friend Lyssa backfires when Timber Tucker obsesses on the revelation. Bob Martin is suitably gruff with the media—but invariably kind and loving toward his liberal daughter Lyssa—as crusty ultra-conservative U.S. Sen. Alan Hughes (R-IN), and Christine Rogers is quite convincing as Charlotte “Chubby” Hughes, a media-savvy former Washington, DC operative who became the senator’s fourth wife.

Although the show had not quite gelled on opening night, Sept. 15th, it has the promise to be one of the stronger productions in TIP’s growing repertoire of high-quality productions. Indeed, TIP scenic and lighting designer Stephen J. Larson has created an extraordinarily detailed set—one of his best yet—for the posh interior of the Abrahamson-Hughes home in the swanky Georgetown section of the nation’s capital; and TIP guest director Shawn Stewart-Larson, who doubles as costume designer for the show, has dressed the cast in a vivid assortment of clothes that reveal a lot about the characters that they play.

For a nation on the verge of electing its next president in 2008, An American Daughter could not be more timely. With Hillary Clinton emerging as one of the frontrunners for the Democratic Party’s nomination, it is an absolute certainty that the news media will once again be making much ado about nothing—or next to nothing—and, in the process, discouraging other highly capable candidates from running for the nation’s highest office. Who, indeed, has a past that could survive that kind of scrutiny?

Theatre in the Park presents An American Daughter Thursday-Friday, Sept. 21-22, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 23, at 3 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 24, at 3 p.m. in TIP’s Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina. $19 ($13 students and seniors 55+). 919/831-6058 or etix via the presenter’s site. NOTE: Arts Access, Inc., will provide audio description at the Sept. 21st performance. Theatre in the Park: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/2006-07_productions/american_daughter/amer_daught.htm [inactive 11/09]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=1542. Internet Movie Database: http://imdb.com/title/tt0217249/.  Wendy Wasserstein: http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=9054 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://imdb.com/name/nm0913715/ (Internet Movie Database).