Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
August 11, 2012
Harrison, Tx, a production by Primary Stages of three one-acts by the late, great playwright Horton Foote, is an appetite-whetter for a meal not entirely served. Just as you're about to take another bite, the wait staff rips the fork from your fingers. Grouped together by the feelings of loneliness and isolation that permeate the author's large body of work, the evening, ably directed by Pam MacKinnon, ultimately leaves you unsatisfied—not because it didn't taste good, but because you're left hungry for more.
The curtain raiser is Blind Date, a simple piece set in 1928 about a meddlesome aunt (played by Hallie Foote, the playwright's daughter, excellent as always) who intends on setting up her uninterested niece (Andrea Lynn Green) with a sweetly naïve neighbor boy (Evan Jonigkeit). The performers, who also include Devon Abner, Hallie's husband, quirkily bring to life this motley assortment, pitch-perfect down to the smallest details, like Jonigkeit's geeky enthusiasm that he can name all books of the Bible and Green's clodhopping down the staircase of Marion Williams' plain and versatile set in Kaye Voyce's deliberately unflattering costume.
Next is The One-Armed Man, a surprisingly dark, even more surprisingly tense three-hander which finds the title character (Alexander Cendese) returning to the cotton mill where he used to work to confront the callous boss (Jeremy Bobb) about the loss of his arm in one of the company's machines. Cendese has a dark, scary quality that suits the role well, while Bobb is particularly adept playing the boss who'll look and talk at you but won't listen (the solid Abner is the third cast member). MacKinnon mines every ounce of suspense from the 20-minute work, which ends before it should.
Last up is the most satisfying, most complete work, The Midnight Caller, once a teleplay that was later turned into a work for the stage. Set in the 1950s in a boarding house run by Mrs. Crawford (Foote again, in a less showy role), the piece finds the stasis of the home—and its tenants (Mary Bacon, Green, and Jayne Houdyshell) disturbed by the howling of a depressed man (Cendese) calling for his former fiancée (Jenny Dare Paulin), who has now moved in as a tenant and taken a new boyfriend of her own (Bobb). Here the production falters a bit; MacKinnon's staging has a sort of disjointed feeling, not really managing to blend the humorousness of Bacon and Green's unmarried ladies with the sadness of Paulin and Cendese, and only the heartbreaking Houdyshell finds the full range of emotions.
As a Foote fan, I will say I'm glad to have seen Harrison, Tx, three plays I had really had no idea existed. I just wish there was more to savor.