Horton Foote has been unfairly compared to other more commercially succcessful Southern playwrights of his generation, and despite a career spanning more than 50 years he has yet to enjoy the popularity he deserves. His continuing sagas about the families who inhabit rural Harrison, Texas in the earlier part of our century are haunting; his characters dwell in the mind long after the curtain has gone down. Foote pierces the seemingly placid surface of small-town life to reveal the turmoil underneath. The talented ensemble at the American Globe Theatre did a fine job bringing this world to life.
A Young Lady of Property centers on 15-year-old Wilma Thompson (Shannon Emerick) and her efforts to make sense of her mother's death and her father's imminent remarriage. On her deathbed, Wilma's mother has instructed that the family home be given to Wilma when she reaches maturity. Everyone in the family seems to have forgotten this bequest, except for Wilma and her aunt Gert (Elizabeth Belonzi), who is raising her. When her father decides to sell the property and move to Houston, a circuitous chain of events occurs, forcing Wilma to make peace with the limitations of her life.
Foote took young actress Shannon Emerick through one of the most complicated acting arcs imaginable, and Emerick was equal to the challenge. She balanced Wilma's bravado with her insecurity, and desire for acceptance and love, in a highly energized and moving performance. Director Edward Peters sometimes directed the already high-energy Emerick a bit too frantically, detracting from the poignancy of her interaction with other characters.
Elizabeth Belonzi gave a heartrending performance as Miss Gert, Wilma's aunt, working wonders with an underwritten role. We have no idea whether Gert is a young widow, spinster, or career woman, but Belonzi created such a vivid world for this character it didn't really matter. Young Stephanie Kammer was touching in the role of Wilma's best friend Arabella Cookenboo, her shyness a perfect foil for Wilma's outspokenness.
Robert Bowen Jr. was amusing as the middle-aged postmaster Russell Walter, who has managed to avoid the romantic overtures of his co-worker Martha Davenport for the last 15 years. Julia McLaughlin captured Martha's loneliness, but her fussy mannerisms and the affectation of an "old lady" walk in an attempt to appear older detracted from her fine work.
Gisele Richardson gave a calm, focused, and intelligent performance as Minna Boyd, the beloved housekeeper and Wilma's confidante.
Foote's highly disturbing The One-Armed Man opens with sanctimonious but sleazy C.W. Rowe berating his frazzled clerk Pinky Anderson for not being able to make ends meet on the pitiful salary he is given. A pillar of the church and community, and owner of the cotton mill which is the source of employment for many of Harrison's citizens, Rowe is cruelly out of touch with his employees' needs. Pinky informs him that Ned McHenry, a young man who has lost an arm in a tragic accident at Rowe's mill, is waiting to see him. McHenry has been a constant visitor to Rowe's office, demanding his arm be given back to him. Rowe gives him a few dollars each time and sends him away. McHenry is now reduced to a low-paying job at the local pool hall, where he is ostracized and abused. Unable to endure Rowe's demeaning treatment of him any longer, McHenry shoots Rowe .
Baz Snider was marvellously ingratiating as the slimy Rowe,
Jim Grollman delightfully nerdy as the beleagured Pinky,
and Charles Tucker gave Ned the monumentality of a tragic
hero, a beautiful young man with his life in ruins. Director Victor
Masterpaul kept the audience on the edge of their seats.
Spring Dance, the least-known of the three plays, takes place at what appears to be a genteel small-town dance, but soon reveals itself as a party for the residents of an upscale mental institution. "Nervous" types like the characters depicted here often were banished to places like this during this period, when their eccentric but harmless behavior became an embarrassment to their well-to-do families. As the characters reveal their stories and hopes for the future it becomes painfully clear that they will probably never be able to resume their former lives. In fact, their families have essentially moved on without them.
Robert Bowen, Jr. was outrageously flamboyant as Greene Hamilton, the scion of one of Harrison's finest families. His homosexuality was probably the reason for his internment, and the confusion of shock treatments will no doubt keep him here all his life. Tom Demenkoff was touching as the "good ol' boy" schizophrenic Cecil Henry, whose life story keeps changing, but who really believes he is about to be released. Jim Grollman did exceptional work as the catatonic Dave Dushon, who hasn't spoken or even acknowledged anyone in years. Melissa Hill gave a sensitve performance as the refined young matron Annie Gayle Long, who like Greene has probably been given so many shock treatments she doesn't even know what year it is or how old her children are. Her occasional moments of lucidity -when she remembers her husband is remarried, and that it has been years since she has seen her children - were heart-stopping.
Allegra Schorr's gently paced direction allowed the characters to reveal themselves in a natural and unrushed way.
The costumes in all three plays, by Cathy McGuire, were appropriate for a hot Texas day, but were not always appropriate for the period. The sets by James A. Bazewicz were simple but functional, with a nice touch of an authentic victrola in the first play. The lighting by Richard Latta was natural and flattering.
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Copyright 1999 Julie Halpern