By Barry Bassis
It’s always a privilege to encounter Hallie Foote acting in the plays of her late father, Horton Foote (1916-2009). “Harrison, TX” is a trio of one-act plays, written at different times but coalescing into a satisfying evening of theater. The setting of the three works is Harrison, a fictitious stand-in for the playwright’s home town, Wharton. The first, “Blind Date,” is set in 1928 and deals with a woman named Delores, a former beauty queen now married with two children, who attempts to fix up her unsociable niece, Sarah Nancy (the hilarious Andrea Lynn Green) with a suitor. Delores’ husband Robert (played by Devon Abner, Hallie’s real life spouse) is tolerant of his wife’s quirks but is more interested in her preparing his dinner than in her romantic scheming. Before the clueless Felix (Evan Jonigkeit) arrives, Dolores comes up with a script for her niece to follow (questions about sports, cars, etc.). The second play, “The One-Armed Man,” is a complete change of pace. A cotton mill worker whose arm was severed in a workplace accident (Alexander Cendese) confronts his former boss (Jeremy Bobb). The distraught young man demands the return of his arm. The suspenseful encounter is more violent than most of Foote’s plays. The last work, “The Midnight Caller” is the most Chekhovian of the three. Cendese is again a disturbed character but this time, he plays an alcoholic who tries to rekindle a lost love. She had rejected him because of his alcoholism and the interference of their mothers. The setting is a boarding home with mostly women tenants: “Cutie” Spencer (the talented Green, again convincing, but this time as a more sociable character), the irritable Alma Jean (Mary Bacon) and the compassionate retired schoolteacher, Rowena (played by the always delightful Jayne Houdyshell). Bobb portrays Ralph, the only male to move into the establishment. He falls in love with Helen (Jenny Dare Paulin), the woman who has broken off with the midnight caller. Hallie Foote is the landlady, who tries to maintain peace in the household. Pam McKinnon’s direction flawlessly captures the mood of each piece. “Harrison, TX” is running at Primary Stages at 59 E59 Theaters until September 15th.
The woods are dangerous, dark and deep in Stephen Sondheim’s (music and lyrics) and James Lapine’s (book) “Into the Woods.” The Delacorte Theater in Central Park is a perfect place to stage the musical. The show is a sort of fairy tale convention, with interconnected stories about Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, a Witch, and Jack and the Beanstalk. There is also a pair of original characters--The Baker and his Wife--who have trouble conceiving, not a problem that surfaced in the works of the Grimms. Actually, the sexiest part of the show is the relationship between Red Riding Hood (funny Sarah Stiles) and the wolf (Ivan Hernandez). Between his “Hello Little Girl” and her “I Know Things Now” something happened; what was merely intimated by the lyrics in prior productions is more graphically conveyed in this version, co-directed by Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel. The main subject of the show is the journey to adulthood in a confusing world. Here, the narrator is a boy (played by Noah Radcliffe in the performance I attended). The baker and his wife are portrayed by Denis O’Hare and Amy Adams. She has the better singing voice of the two but is burdened by a peculiar wig. Jessie Mueller is an excellent Cinderella. Best of all is Donna Murphy as the flamboyant Witch. The show’s loveliest number is “Children Will Listen.” When the songs are by Sondheim, everyone listens. And for free tickets, who can complain?
Jeremy Bobb and Alexander Cendese in Harrison, TX - Three Plays by Horton Foote