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The Carpetbagger's Children
Unlike Chekhov's Three Sisters, desperate to leave the provinces for Moscow, Horton Foote's three sisters are too land-proud and fixated on their small Texas town to even consider leaving. Not even marriage will uproot them.
When the youngest, Sissy, marries a man whose job takes him to Houston, she and her child stay home with Mother while her husband agrees to visit them every other week-end. Although her father is justified in saying her husband was after her money, Grace Anne, the rebel who marries without the family's permission, lives a happy married life. Cornelia, the oldest, is proud to be the one to whom Daddy designates the supervision of the 20,000 acres he acquired when he was a tax collector and foreclosed on Confederate properties after the Civil War.
Although he is the carpetbagger of the title, a Union soldier who found Texas to his liking, his generosity brought him a best friend in the Confederate Colonel next door. That friendship would make another wonderful play from Foote's seemingly inexhaustible store of Texas lore, though this one leaves plenty to be going on with.
The three sisters rarely interact with each other. Foote has structured the play almost entirely in monologues. Each sister tells her story to the audience. Still we can almost see the other characters: feckless Brother; Leon, possible murderer and unambiguous fraud; Mama, growing increasingly dottier; beautiful Beth, the oldest sister, who died young.
Foote's genius has always been in making little lives enthralling. Even the estrangement of Grace Anne is woven into the life of the town. Her family send her money, she sends it back. Though she and her father never speak after her elopement, she comes to his funeral. She declines to have her daughters' wedding in the big family home but the family all come to her little house.
The only grand melodramatic event involves Leon. We saw it coming and it's disappointing in its clichéd predictability. In contrast Sissy, whose singing Papa loves, dies in the night as quietly as she has lived. Yet the vivacity and fullness with which Sissy, as interpreted by Corrina Lyons, lives her gentle life leaves a mark in the sense of loss that permeates her absence.
Foote uses such wonderful touches as the description of how the southern Colonel and other townspeople met the dying Beth at the train and covered the streets with straw so the wagon bearing her home would not jolt. Cornelia remembers that towards the end of her life as their big house becomes the last on a street now studded with gas stations and small businesses and always noisy. In addition to Lyons, Leslie Stevens plays Grace Anne with coltish stubbornness and spice and Mary McBride brings eloquent dignity, alternately mournful and shrewd, to Cornelia.
Although the cast is forced to use the remarkable set of wooden pillars and tunnels contructed for Floyd Collins which plays at The West Coast Ensemble on week-ends, the set doesn't seem out of place in rural Texas and the cast makes clever use of it, scrambling up one side to make it an attic, twining behind a post to convey a porch. The old songs and hymns that intersperse the play give it a sense of period. Director Cate Caplin's dance background contributes to its steady rhythm, graceful blocking and the understated quality of listening to their feelings that the actresses present.
Editor's Note: When Les Gutman reviewed this play at Lincoln Center he found the monologue structure chosen by Mr. Foote a major drawback. To read his review go here.
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Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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