More than 25 years ago, it was the part of Margaret "Mags" Church that drew Ann McDonough to Tina Howe's play "Painting Churches." In just a few days, it will be the part of Mags' mother, Fanny Church, who will attract McDonough to the stage.

"In many, many ways, we see her trying to put her best foot forward," McDonough said of Fanny, the character she portrays in a new reading of the play at the Westport Country Playhouse, Monday, Feb. 9.

Fanny, who is in her 60s, is getting ready to pack up the life she and her husband Gardner shared in their Beacon Hill home in Boston. They plan to trade it in for their much smaller summer cottage on Cape Cod. But the idea that life may be less complicated is, well, complicated by the fact that her husband, a famed poet now retired, is growing increasingly senile and in need of care.

The couple has asked Mags, who is in her 30s, to help them move. A rising artist, she hopes to paint a portrait of her parents and in the process come to terms with them about past hurts and insecurities.

While it has been staged many times since its 1983 debut, the latest reading will have a genuine familial feel to it. In addition to McDonough, her husband and fellow actor Jack Gilpin will play Gardner, and their daughter Betty Gilpin (she plays Dr. Carrie Roman on TV's "Nurse Jackie") will be playing Mags.

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'Painting Churches'
Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court. Monday, Feb. 9, 7 p.m. $20. 203-227-4177,

Betty Gilpin is starring in Halley Feiffer's new drama, "I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard," at the Atlantic Theatre Company in New York City.

Feiffer's work also is a play that looks into the life of a creative family -- this time it is a young actress and her playwright father -- but the crush of expectations and disappointments are as present in the show as they are in "Painting Churches."

"I guess we are all eternally searching for parents' approval," said McDonough, who has had a long career in film, television and on stage.

She recently appeared in another "Script in Hand' reading of "The Mousetrap" and has appeared in Long Wharf Theatre's production of "Our Town." Her film credits include "Moonstruck" and "Six Degrees of Separation." Jack Gilpin has performed at the playhouse in "Lend Me a Tenor," "A Cheever Evening" and "Hay Fever." Among his films are "Reversal of Fortune" and "Higher Ground."

The play reading, which is under the direction of playhouse associate director Anne Keefe, follows Keefe's efforts to stage works by women.

"In my continuing exploration of female playwrights this season, starting last fall with Joanna McClelland Glass' `Trying' and Agatha Christie's `The Mousetrap,' I remembered this lovely and funny play by Tina Howe," Keefe said in a recent news release. "When I realized I could cast an actual family to play all the roles, it seemed a no-brainer. I'm looking forward to seeing art imitate life and vice versa as these talented performers delve into playing these fascinating characters."

For the past several weeks, McDonough, who lives in Roxbury with her husband, has been working to hone in on Fanny -- who at various turns could be a harried caregiver, a worried wife or a critical mother. "I want to get her right," she said. "It's an interesting story," said McDonough of the 1982 play, which is both a theatrical portrait, and literal portrait, of a family. "It is about the past and expectations of the future."; Twitter: @xtinahennessy

Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court. Monday, Feb. 9, 7 p.m. $20. 203-227-4177,