Good story telling never goes out of style as evidenced by the extremely satisfying three course gourmet meal served up by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Horton Foote with his trio of short one act plays HARRISON, TX now running through September 15th at Primary Stages 59 East 59 Street.
His daughter, Hallie Foote, is keeping the tradition alive after the death of her dad in 2009 as custodian and prime interpreter of his works. And after viewing some of the various Fringe Festivals experiments in playwriting it was a welcome relief to see this expertly written, acted and directed production.
When you have a great playwright who can muster up detail, convincing dialogue and drama and actors who understand the nuances of character – who know how to listen -and who know how to fill in the silences – and an exceptional director (Pam MacKinnon) who call pull it all together seemingly effortlessly with simplicity and style not much can go wrong. And with HARRISON, TX everything goes right.
All three take place in Harrison, Texas the imaginary location very similar to Wharton, Texas where Mr. Foote chose to dramatize the characters and goings on in that rural area of America. Mr. Foote was an astute judge of character and a master of what I have decided to call “the squirm factor” which is present in all three plays.
The first, BLIND DATE, has a very funny set up. Dolores (Hallie Foote) has arranged for her glum, stubborn and opinionated niece Sarah Nancy (a riotous Andrea Lynn Green) to meet Felix (Evan Jonigkeit) at home in 1928 where a very hungry husband -Robert (Devon Abner) expects to be fed after a hard day of work. Prepping Sarah Nancy on the art of conversation is priceless as is the squirming Felix as he tries ever so hard to be polite and a gentleman at all costs.
The second, THE ONE-ARMED MAN has a much darker tone and takes us by surprise. Its shock value is heightened especially after the recent shootings near the Empire State Building by a disgruntled employee who goes after his ex-boss.
Mr. Foote has the insensitive owner of a cotton mill hit by hard times (1928) an excellent Jeremy Bobb as C.W.Rowe squirming as he is confronted by McHenry (Alexander Cendese) an ex-employee who has lost his arm in an accident and wants it back. Trying to stay calm, with an eye always on the irate McHenry, Rowe desperately tries to negotiate by offering the man what he can. It is extremely compelling and chilling.
The third and longest of the trio is THE MIDNIGHT CALLER which takes place in 1952 in a boarding house run by Mrs. Crawford (Hallie Foote). The resident boarders include “Cutie” Spencer (a sensitive and amusing crier Andrea Lynn Green), Alma Jean Jordan (the always excellent Mary Bacon), an older spinster teacher Miss Rowena Douglas (a tame and moving Jayne Houdyshell) who all get to squirm when the dashing and recently divorced Mr. Ralph Johnson (Jeremy Bobb) and Helen Crews (Jenny Dare Paulin) move in – upsetting the normal, mundane routine of its inhabitants.
Helen has a rather bad reputation in town with her ex-boy friend Harvey Weems (Alexander Cendese) who drunkenly visits the house every night since their separation and turns everyone’s lives upside down.
Wonderful character studies, homespun humor and attention to detail make HARRISON, TX worthy of a visit. No intermission. Ninety plus, very satisfying minutes long.
www.primarystages.org Photos: James Leynse
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