Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Old Friends ***

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
Horton Foote, Pulitzer Prize-winning chronicler of small-town American life as lived in Harrison, TX, worked on this play off and on for over 40 years, but apparently was still not completely satisfied with it when he died in 2009. Signature Theatre is now presenting its world premiere. In Foote Country, we are never far from family rivalries, greed, the lust for power, and in this instance, the nearest liquor bottle. Borden family matriarch Mamie (Lois Smith) is forced to live with her wealthy but greedy, unhappily married daughter Julia (Veanne Cox) and Julia’s rotund alcoholic husband Albert (Adam LeFevre) who makes no attempt to disguise his hatred of his mother-in-law. Their old friend Gertrude, a monstrously greedy, needy lush (Betty Buckley), is filled with unrequited love for her business manager Howard (Cotter Smith), younger brother of her late husband. Mamie’s long-absent daughter-in-law Sybil (Hallie Foote) returns to the family with news of her husband Hugo’s untimely demise. 30 year ago, she broke off her engagement to Howard and married Hugo out of spite. Gertrude regards Sybil’s return as a threat and acts accordingly. The equilibrium is further upset by the arrival in town of Tom (Sean Lyons), a good-looking young man on the make, who ignites a rivalry between Gertrude and Julia. For most of the play, Julia, Albert and Gertrude are drunk. The play’s imperfections include too many over-the-top emotions and a weak narrative arc. Nevertheless, Foote created a gallery of vivid characters superbly portrayed by a stellar cast. Novella Nelson and Melle Powers have little to do in roles as maids. Jeff Cowie’s set design and David C. Woolard’s costumes are excellent. Michael Wilson directs with the sure hand he always brings to a Foote play. Running time: 2 hours including intermission.

A reminder about ratings: I use a scale from 0 to 5 stars. 0 = Dreadful. * = Poor. ** = Fair.
*** = Good. **** = Very Good. ***** = Outstanding.

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