Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Holiday Auto-Post: Plays I Wish I Could See Again

Hi, everyone!  I've hopefully made it home for the holidays, safe and sound.  I hope you are all safe and sound as well.  I know I haven't been posting as much lately; I hope to fix that in 2018.  I quite literally ran out of funds - plans are afoot to stop that from happening again.  I was fortunate to attend a couple of free events recently, but I think my brain is also cash-poor, so I didn't post anything.  Though one of the events was one of my favorite outings of last year.  Maybe I should focus on that.  Moving on.

For now, I've got a couple of auto-posts coming up.  I've been thinking about Horton Foote and his plays lately, who knows why?  But I don't think I've ever posted my reviews of his three-part Orphans' Home Cycle, which played in 2010.  I'm sorry the transfer gossip I refer to never came to pass.  Randomly, I had a dream the other night about one of the scenes, so I decided to share this review.  I hope you enjoy and think back fondly on his work, too...

2/26/10:  I finally saw Parts One and Two of Horton Foote’s The Orphans’ Home Cycle.  I was fortunate enough to randomly get a free ticket to Part Three last month, so I already knew how it ‘ended’, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the first parts in the least.  In fact, I’m kinda thinking of going back to see Part Three again.

This cycle of plays is being given a lovely, centered production that emphasizes the strengths and rather overlooks the flaws of each piece.  I think the cycle has been beautifully directed by Michael Wilson and the cast is truly remarkable.  They all play more than one character, and each character is sharply detailed and lovingly drawn.  Even the less-than-desirable characters are warmly and sympathetically played.

Each part begins with sliding panels and a backdrop of a beautiful expansive vista.  Then our characters move in and around the panels, especially our main character Horace Robedaux.  We see him as a twelve-year-old, then as a fourteen-year-old, then as an adult.  The sliding panels reveal and conceal all three Horaces quite beautifully.  Projections tell us which play we’re seeing and in what year it’s taking place.  I think they’ve done an excellent job of keeping a lot of unwieldy details under control.  

Part One is called The Story of a Childhood and includes the three short plays “Roots in a Parched Ground,” “Convicts” and “Lily Dale.”  We first meet young Horace, running back and forth between his maternal and paternal grandparents’ houses, trying to keep the piece with both families.  When his father dies, his world changes forever, and the rest of the cycle deals with how Horace navigates his life and tries to finally find a home.  

There’s a very rich, everyday feel to the proceedings, but everything is also tinged with sadness and regret.  I can’t really describe how moved I was by the whole thing.  I was just so taken by this boy who is forgotten and neglected by everyone, yet still finds it within himself to achieve happiness.  It was so real and conversational, yet very profound.

Part Two is called The Story of a Marriage and includes the three short plays “The Widow Claire,” “Courtship” and “Valentine’s Day.”  Here, we see Horace trying to make something of himself and beginning to try to find the partner and helpmate that will complete him.  His continuing struggle to find himself and his declarations of love and commitment are incredibly moving.  Part Three is called The Story of a Family and consists of “1918,” “Cousins” and “The Death of Papa,” and here we see how Horace finally realizes that he’s a part of something bigger than himself.  

Each of the actors playing Horace (Dylan Riley Snyder, Henry Hodges and Bill Heck) are amazing, especially Heck.  He plays Horace from 20 years old to nearly 40, and he is spot on with each age.  Considering I saw him play the oldest version of Horace first, I was really taken with how specific he was as the younger Horace.  But all three gents have obviously worked together a lot, because they share the same cadences, a lot of the same personal quirks and physical movements—they’re really a wonderfully integrated trio.

photo credit: T. Charles Erickson (from the Hartford production)
All of the actors are wonderful, but I was rather partial to James DeMarse as the eventual father-in-law to Horace, and Lucas Caleb Rooney, who plays several incarnations of dissolute cousins to Horace.  I think Bryce Pinkham as Horace’s wastrel brother-in-law is quite good, too.  I will say that poor Devon Abner is saddled with two of the worst wigs I’ve ever seen in my life, but he does play several characters wonderfully.  Oh, and Hallie Foote is sublime in all of her roles, as usual.  She is always as singularly wonderful an actor as her father was a writer.

Dramaturgically, there are maybe a few problems.  Each of the one-act plays has been pared down to about an hour, so sometimes things fly by and you feel like your head is spinning because so many events take place in a short amount of time.  It especially happens during Part Three, where a LOT of things have to happen before the end.  Though so much of Part Three is so moving, you kind of forgive the problems.  At least I did.

I think you all know that I’m partial to Horton Foote—I just love his view of the world and his telling of these personal stories that still resonate with a universality I find breathtaking.  So, you won’t be surprised to hear that I give these plays a HUGE thumbs up!  I hear rumors of a transfer, but I’m not sure they would work in a bigger space.  I think the intimacy of the Signature space is perfect.  Oh, I know these ‘slice of life’ kind of plays aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I definitely feel they’re worth a look.  I think this production is a fitting tribute to a wonderful writer—I hope they’re the first in a long line of revivals of Horton Foote’s work, so I can continue to enjoy these people for many years to come…

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