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It consists of four vignettes involving three sisters and their mother, each focusing on one of the women as she confronts various issues with the man in her life. Emily is a recent widow, relocating to a new apartment, who finds herself attracted to the owner of the moving company. Celia is the wife of a bigoted ex-Army Sergeant whose reunion with an old pal leaves her out in the cold. Dorothy and her spouse discreetly try to learn if each has been faithful to the other as they celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Last of all is Ma, the stubborn Irish matriarch who rises from her deathbed in order to have a priest sanctify her common-law marriage to a Dutchman.
Furth wrote his play intending it to be a tour de force for a single actress playing all four roles. The title is derived from the quote, "Just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined", written by Alexander Pope in his Moral Essays in 1773.
After seven previews, the Broadway production, directed by Michael Bennett, opened on November 14, 1971, at the Broadhurst Theatre, where it remained for six weeks before transferring to the Plymouth for the remainder of its run of 289 performances. The cast included Sada Thompson, Conrad Bain, and Simon Oakland. Thompson won both the Tony and the Drama Desk Award for her performance.
In 1975, Furth adapted his play for a television production co-directed by Alan Arkin and Clark Jones. The cast included Carol Burnett, Ed Asner, Liam Dunn, Pat Hingle, Gary Burghoff, and Bain reprising his Broadway role.
- Mandelbaum, Ken (1990). A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett. St Martins Press, ISBN 0-312-04280-9
- Kelly, Kevin (1990). One Singular Sensation: The Michael Bennett Story. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-26125-X.