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Time seems to move more slowly while you’re watching a Horton Foote play, and I mean that as a compliment. The late playwright and two-time Academy Award winner for his screenplays of To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies wrote in a leisurely, conversational style that perfectly evokes the bygone eras in which his dramas are usually set. His methods are on terrific display in the Primary Stages revival of The Roads to Home, three interrelated one-acts not seen in New York since 1992.
Set in 1920s Texas, the triptych begins with A Nightingale, which introduces us to Mabel (Hallie Foote, the playwright’s daughter, who’s made a career out of acting in her father’s works) and her neighbor and friend Vonnie (Harriet Harris). The chatty duo are interrupted by the arrival of Annie (Rebecca Brooksher), a young woman who quickly comes across as addled. “Harrison is not such a nice town,” she keeps saying, referring to a tragic incident from her past, while frequently shooting an imaginary gun. She’s eventually retrieved by her husband (Dan Bittner), who’s aggrieved to have had to take time off from work.
Mabel and Vonnie return in The Dearest of Friends, set several months later. While Mabel’s husband (Devon Abner) naps in his easy chair, Vonnie tearfully confides that her husband Eddie (Matt Sullivan) is having an affair and has asked for a divorce. Eddie soon arrives, having supposedly worked late, looking for his wife. As the night wears on, he reveals his anguish over the situation, declaring that he’s always tried to do the right thing.
Spring Dance takes place four years later, in a garden outside an auditorium in which a fancy ball seems to be taking place. Among the formally dressed attendees are Annie and three men, and it soon becomes apparent that the dance is actually being held in a mental asylum in which they’re inmates. Although one of the men announces that he’ll be going home in a week, it seems likely Annie will be there for the rest of her life.
The playwright frequently leavens these tragic situations with droll humor. Mabel and Vonnie’s comic banter, for example, gives them the feel of a rural Lucy and Ethel. And Mabel’s husband periodically awakens from his nap only to ask his wife what time it is so he can count down the minutes until he can go to bed.
The Roads to Home is less concerned with plot, of which there isn’t much, than with subtle character revelations. The quiet direction by Foote veteran Michael Wilson (The Trip to Bountiful, The Orphan’s Home Cycle) enhances the cozy intimacy, as do the ensemble’s excellent performances. While it’s not surprising that Hallie Foote is perfectly attuned to her father’s style, Harris matches her note for note, dialing down her usual broad comic instincts as she delivers a superb portrayal of a spurned wife unable to accept what’s happening to her.
To be sure, this evening of one-acts is a minor effort, and pales in comparison to the playwright’s The Young Man From Atlanta and Dividing the Estate, among others. But it offers enough subtle pleasures to infuse us with the warm feeling that we indeed can go home again.
Venue: Cherry Lane Theatre, New York
Cast: Devon Abner, Dan Bittner, Rebecca Brooksher, Harriet Harris, Hallie Foote, Matt Sullivan
Playwright: Horton Foote
Director: Michael Wilson
Set designer: Jeff Cowie
Costume designer: David C. Woolard
Lighting designer: David Lander
Music & sound designer: John Gromada
Presented by Primary Stages
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