“The oldest orphan in the John Grier Home,” sings Stefanie Kluba with a lovely voice and a great feel for the dilemma of her character Jerusha Abbott as she opens the Hawthorne Players’ production of Daddy Long Legs at the turn of the twentieth century with one of the musical’ s songs by Paul Gordon in the book by John Caird, adapted from the novel by Jean Webster. She is about to finish high school, and she faces an uncertain future.
Then, as the annual meeting of the trustees of the orphanage is breaking up, she is called to the principal’s office. There she is told that one of the trustees, impressed by some of her essays he has seen, has decided to send her to college to be educated as a writer. She is to write him a letter once a month telling him of her progress in her education. But he will not reply, and she will never know his identity. So she invents one for him. Told that she had just seen the gentleman leaving the office after the meeting and being impressed by his height as she saw him from the back and saw his long shadow, she names him Daddy Long Legs.
Although she knows that he will never respond to her letters, she grows more and more fond of this elusive and kindly “old” gentleman, as she has invented him.
But another relationship begins to develop in Jerusha’s life. Jervis Pendleton is the well-to-do “youngish” uncle of one of Jerusha’s roommates, who introduces her to a world of literature, travel, and adventure. Through her correspondence with Daddy Long Legs and her growing intimacy with Jervis, Jerusha’s letters record her emergence as a delightfully independent “New American Woman.”
But because we have already seen handsome, charming Cole Gutman as Jervis in his book-lined, well-furnished Manhattan apartment and have watched him there not only reading Jerusha’s letters and responding to them but also reading the letters she has written to Daddy Long Legs, we know, as she does not, that Daddy Long Legs and Jervis are one and the same. As Daddy Long Legs, he has been reading her private thoughts about Jervis.
And when, a couple of years out of college and already a successful novelist and beginning to repay the college for Daddy Long Legs’ contributions, she discovers the truth, she is, understandably, furious that he has been spying on her thoughts about Jervis through Daddy Long Legs.
But love will conquer all, won’t it?
With his usual intelligence and grace, Ken Clark has directed this Hawthorne Players production. He has also designed the set, and he must have spent most of his budget on all those books and fine furniture in Jarvis’s apartment. That leaves Jerusha only the small desk and chair in her dorm room and a couple of trunks that always accompany her. They are, I suppose, the nearest thing she has to a permanent home, and she always kneels by one of them to place her paper and on it and write her letters to Daddy Long Legs.
Clark also designed the projections of Jerusha’s temporary residences. Tracey Newcomb designed the handsome period costumes, Eric Wennlund’s lights kept our attention focused where it should be, and Larry Jost’s sound design helped us hear what we should hear. Music Director Sean Bippen guides the actors and the small instrumental ensemble to realize Paul Gordon’s attractive score. Chloe Clawson is the efficient Stage Manager.
Hawthorne’s Daddy Long Legs makes thoroughly pleasant theatre out of this epistolary two-hander.
Photo by Ken Clark