Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote.
59E59 Theaters; 180 seats; $70 top
Primary Stages continues its Foote Family Reunion scheduling with "Harrison, TX," three one-act plays by the late, great patriarch Horton Foote. The ensemble is anchored by Hallie Foote, who has an uncanny affinity for her father's idiosyncratic characters, and scribe Daisy Foote will complete this family portrait with her own new play opening next month. On the current bill are two sketchy, if beautifully written, scenes of Southern life just before the Depression flattens this Texas town. The third piece, which captures the tone of quiet desperation in a respectable boarding house, is more finished but still could have used an edit.
The designers have gone overboard on the depressing decor, with scene settings too dark for Foote's delicately put feelings--a subtle blend of affection, sympathy, humor and horror--about the pseudonymous little Texas town that became the bottomless well of inspiration for his many plays.
"Blind Date" is a spot-on sample of Foote's lethal sense of humor. This 1920s version of a sitcom is set in the home of Robert Henry (Devon Abner, a solid presence), a successful lawyer and undisputed king of his comfortable domestic kingdom. The role of Henry's perfect lady of a wife, Dolores, now fits Hallie Foote like her own skin.
Dolores has gone to great trouble arranging a date for her willfully independent niece, Sarah Nancy (Andrea Lynn Green, a saucy little comedienne and a real find), who at first seems to be the brunt of the joke. But once Dolores finishes dispensing her dead-serious tricks on how a clever girl catches a man this dark comedy turns into a nuanced study of how different generations of Southern women use their wits to survive in a man's world.
"The One-Armed Man" is even more of a sketch, but with a stark central image that sums up the master/serf relationship between the haves and have-nots in the industrial south of the 1920s. The action takes place in the office of C.W. Rowe (the stalwart Jeremy Bobb), the self-satisfied owner of a cotton gin who treats his underpaid bookkeeper (another sturdy turn from Abner) with contempt. "There is no excuse for a man to be in debt in this great little town of ours," he lectures this wretch.
This slave driver honestly can't understand why a young factory worker (Alexander Cendese, looking like an avenging archangel) keeps showing up at his door demanding the return of the arm he lost to a malfunctioning factory machine. Foote maneuvers himself into a dead end that might have been less jarring in a short story, but the writing is fierce and the piece is well acted, with helmer Pam MacKinnon ("Clybourne Park") getting the maximum tension from a harrowing situation.
"The Midnight Caller," which takes place in 1952, is the most fully developed story but also the one most in need of a final polish. The scene is well set in the respectable boarding house of Mrs. Crawford, a very proper widow nicely underplayed by Hallie Foote. Her paying guests do run to type, but the all-pro cast gives them dimension: the bitter old maid (played with tantalizing hints of self-awareness by Mary Bacon); the young secretary probably in love with her boss (Green, sweetly protective of this romantic girl); and the elderly lady trying to make the best of her lonely life (a bit too cheerfully in Jayne Houdyshell's perf).
The reassuring rhythms of boarding-house life are disrupted when Mrs. Crawford takes in two more guests: an eligible man (Bobb, here a model gentleman) and the attractive Helen Crews (Jenny Dare Paulin). Helen's unhappy romance with resident drunk Harvey Weems (Cendese) has scandalized the whole town, and her pained efforts to resist his pathetic midnight calls are nothing short of heroic.
This is the kind of small town heartbreak that Foote always manages to elevate into high tragedy. Here, however, it comes with a barrage of verbiage that would surely not have survived a smart rewrite.
CREDITS: A Primary Stages presentation, in association with Jamie deRoy and Barry Feirstein, of three plays in one act by Horton Foote. Directed by Pam MacKinnon. Set, Marion Williams; costumes, Kaye Voyce; lighting, Tyler Micoleau; Original music and sound, Broken Chord; production stage manager, Kyle Gates. Opened Aug. 14, 2012. Reviewed Aug. 8. Running time: 1 HOUR, 45 MIN.
With: Devon Abner, Mary Bacon, Jeremy Bobb, Alexander Cendese, Hallie Foote, Andrea Lynn Green, Jayne Houdyshell, Evan Jonigkeit, Jenny Dare Paulin.
Please note: Some tables or figures were omitted from this article.