Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Roads to Home *** B+

To mark the 100th anniversary of Horton Foote’s birth, Primary Stages has mounted a meticulous production of this Texas triptych, unseen in New York since 1992. The first two plays are set in Houston in 1924. In “Nightingale,” Mabel Votaugh (Hallie Foote) and her next-door neighbor Vonnie Hayhurst (Harriet Harris) are interrupted by an unwanted visit from Annie Gayle Long (Rebecca Brookheiser), a young woman who is clearly unstable. Like Mabel, Annie grew up in Harrison, Texas and has begun to visit Mabel daily to relive memories of home. Annie’s husband (Dan Bittner) comes to claim her and urge her to come home to their two small children. In “Dearest of Friends,” the most satirical of the three acts, we meet Mabel and Vonnie’s husbands. Jack Votaugh (Devon Abner) is a couch potato who asks to be awakened from his nap when it is bedtime. Eddie Hayhurst (Matt Sullivan) has fallen in love with a younger woman and begs Vonnie for a divorce. The final and saddest piece is “Spring Dance,” which takes place in Austin four years later. The formal attire in which Annie and the three men are dressed suggests a country club dance. The high wall at the back of the stage suggests otherwise. Two other Harrison natives are at the dance — Dave Dushon (Bittner), a young man who never speaks, and Greene Hamilton (Sullivan), who is easily excitable. Cecil Henry (Abner) is a man who expects to be leaving soon. As the act proceeds, the characters and the audience experience increasing disorientation and confusion. Some people find Hoote’s work too homespun, provincial or even corny. I am not one of them. He is adept in finding the universal in the particular. The production is topnotch. Jeff Cowie’s set design and David C. Woolard’s costumes are excellent. Director Michael Wilson (The Orphans’ Home Cycle, The Trip to Bountiful) once again demonstrates his affinity for the playwright’s work. The actors are very good. Hallie Foote was literally born to play the heroine in her father’s plays. (In the original production, she played Annie.) Harriet Harris successfully dials down her big personality to fit the ensemble. I liked Rebecca Brookheiser better in the third act than in the first. The three men are fine in their dual roles. If you appreciate Foote, you will be more than satisfied with your time spent at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Running time: two hours, five minutes including intermission.

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