The Horton Foote Project
nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
August 6, 2006
During the '70s, Horton Foote, the playwright whose works include the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Young Man From Atlanta, wrote a semi-autobiographical series of nine plays called The Orphans' Home Cycle. It has been compared to Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha saga, even though it is a drama and not a novel, in that the interconnection of the characters' lives and experiences and their different points of view about what happens to them create an entire world for the audience or reader. In Slant Theatre Project's one hour and fifteen minute adaptation of five of the cycle's plays, however, the near-impossible task of condensing so many events in such a short time while trying to retain that world, unfortunately, does not meet with success.
The play is set in Harrison, Texas in 1918 near the end of the First World War. Horace Robedaux, Jr. (Stephen Plunkett) who has not enlisted to fight, is suffering from the flu epidemic that is ravaging the area. Through his fevered hallucinations, we see flashbacks to his childhood, the death of his father, difficulties with his stepfather and family, and the courtship of his future wife.
I have not read any of the plays in Foote's cycle, but watching the adaptation, it felt like many things were missing. Scenes jump back and forth and although its understood that some scenes are flashbacks produced by hallucinations, the timeline is still confusing. It's not a bad thing at all to not immediately get what's going on when watching a play, that's often part of the fun to wonder what's going to happen next, but the characters here aren't given time to develop and we are left without their responses to their circumstances before the next scene occurs. After seeing the play, I read the script at home and a lot more was made clear to me. The connections are there and the information is given. Maybe, since I saw it on opening night, the emotional responses to circumstances will strengthen during the run, providing a clearer and more compelling story.
In one scene that is already developed and quite lovely, Horace and his bride-to-be, Elizabeth (Amelia McClain), are seen as young people sitting on her father's porch. The sweet shyness and romantic attraction between them are played by both actors simply and beautifully. Plunkett has other good moments throughout, especially when he underplays his reactions. McClain plays all the other female roles in the play, including Horace's mother, his sister Lily Dale, and Mrs. Coons, a Bible-thumping passenger Horace meets on a train. Chris Grant plays all the male ensemble roles, including Dr. Greene, the stepfather Pete Davenport, young Horace's friend Lloyd, a gravedigger named Sam, and, in a touching portrayal, Horace's natural father.
Wes Grantom, the director and co-adapter (along with McClain, Plunkett, and dramaturg Lori Wolter) makes simple use of the playing space, but the blocking seems at times awkward, making the actors hard to see; it is not fully clear at first where the action in some of the scenes is taking place. Sarah Greene, the costume designer, uses very simple accessories such as a hat or scarf for the two actors playing the ensemble roles to create different characters effectively, and although there is no credit given in the program for set design, there is an upstage flat with two shuttered doors and billowing white curtains that creates a feeling of fluidity in time while its architecture is fully anchored in the period of the play. Derek Wright's lights add to a feeling of floating and I would have liked to see even more differentiation with the lighting between past and present.
In the introduction to the script, it is written that the play means to pose the question, "How can human beings stand all that comes to them?", a line Horace says in the first scene. With more development through the run, it is hoped that such an amazingly worthy and laudable goal will be fully expressed.