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Harrison, TX: Three Plays By Horton Foote
All three plays are set in Harrison, Texas (a pseudonym for Wharton, Texas where Foote grew up). Blind Date and The One-Armed Man take place in 1928 and The Midnight Caller in 1952. All three give us a glimpse of how some very ordinary folk are unwittingly coaxed into doing the extraordinary. I wish I could say that everyone in the ensemble has totally captured the flavor, call it the nuance of character, that Ms Foote has mastered over the years of appearing in plays by her father. You have only to watch how she moves, and listen to the cadence in her speech as the doting Aunt Dolores in Blind Date, to recognize her invaluable and incomparable contribution to her father’s legacy.
In this diverting little gem, the aunt attempts with diminishing results to instruct her scowling, unresponsive niece Sarah Nancy (Andrea Lynn Green) how to be welcoming and above all “gracious” to a young man who will be coming to call. We empathize with her enviably calm, unflagging efforts to help the incorrigibly belligerent Sarah Nancy be polite and sociable.
Despite the intrusions of her impatient husband Robert (Devon Abner), who wants to know why dinner is not waiting for him, Dolores takes the time to jot down a list of questions that she feels would help any shy young woman start a civil conversation. While the questions are amusingly mundane, one even a little indelicate by today’s measure of what's socially appropriate (“What church do you go to?), they become, upon the arrival of the personable and nice-looking Felix (good performance by Evan Jonigkeit), a catalyst for a funny, and unexpectedly charming twist within a very awkward situation.
The One-Armed Man is vintage Foote, but in a more atypical vein. It’s a tension-filled shocker in which McHenry (Alexander Cendese) , a young man who has lost his arm in an accident while working in a cotton gin, demands that C.W. Rowe (Jeremy Bobb), the owner, give him back his arm. A mostly silent rage fuels McHenry’s demand as Rowe begins to realize that offering belated cash compensation, even offering him a job, is leading nowhere. The play, in which the plant’s bookkeeper Pinkey (Devon Abner) is unfortunately implicated, is a harrowing study in sustained hate, fear and apprehension.
The Midnight Caller is closer in mood, temperament and style to the wistful poignancy that marks such plays as The Day Emily Married (produced by Primary Stages), The Last of the Thorntons, as well as such cherished beauties as The Trip to Bountiful and The Traveling Lady. If The Midnight Caller covers relatively familiar territory with its personal longings of single women alone irreconcilably consigned to nurturing their deeply embedded idiosyncrasies, it offers more high quality time to Ms Foote, as Mrs. Crawford whose boarding house becomes the center of the town’s attention when she rents a room to a provocative woman.
The incomparable Jayne Houdyshell is having her first experience playing a Foote character, and she is a joy. At the performance I attended, she was still settling into the numerous florid reveries into which Miss Rowena Douglas, her autumnal character occasionally drifts — usually in response to the other residents, all of whom are more easily unnerved by forthcoming events. For me, she can drift anywhere and any way she likes.
Mary Bacon is excellent as the gossipy, sexually repressed Alma Jean Jordan fearful that her spotless reputation will be tainted by association with the very pretty new boarder Helen Crews (a rather vague, disengaged performance by Jenny Dare Paulin). Helen’s past has come back to haunt as well as taunt her. He is Harvey Weems (Alexander Cendese) a former lover now a raving, inconsolable alcoholic who spends his nights on the front lawn screaming for her to return to him. Cendese is as riveting in his brief scene as he is as the one-armed McHenry).
It doesn’t take long, however, for the needy Helen to find solace and affection in the arms of the only male boarder Mr. Ralph Johnston (Jeremy Bobb), much to the chagrin of Alma Jean. Andrea Lynn Green, whom we saw earlier as Sarah Nancy in Blind Date, is infinitely more mature as “Cutie” Spencer, who is inexplicably resigned, except for Helen, for a spinster’s life in the parlor.
The two comfortable-looking parlor settings, as well as the office in the cotton gin, are effectively designed by Marion Williams to comply with fast changes that are needed, as there is no intermission only a brief pause between the plays. This triptych appears as a pleasing dramatic experience within the context of Foote’s more impressive body of work that reached its peak with the nine hour saga, The Orphans’ Home Cycle, a nine-hour saga. (The Orphans' Home Cycle: Part One, Part II/,Part III/)
The Foote celebration continues with Daisy Foote’s play Him opening on September 25. Watch for Curtainup's review.
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