NEW YORK (AP) — The comedic foibles and poignant tragedies of small-town life, as brilliantly set forth by Horton Foote, are on pleasing display in Primary Stages' finely-presented trio of one-act plays about his well-mined subject, the ordinary yet quirky folks of Harrison, Texas.
This effective 90-minute production, plainly titled "Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote," features an accomplished ensemble of nine actors perceptively directed by Pam MacKinnon. Presented off-Broadway at 59E59 Theaters, it is part of a celebration of the works of the renowned Pulitzer Prize winner, who died in 2009 at age 92.
Act one, "Blind Date," is a sensitive comedy set in 1928, about a truculent young woman with a startling lack of social graces whose nervously exasperated aunt keeps trying to set her up on dates. Andrea Lynn Green is quite funny as eye-rolling, frowning teenager Sarah Nancy, who stomps around grumpily and declares that boys are "dumb and stupid."
She remains oblivious to all the sticky sweet charm her fluttery aunt Dolores, played with comedic edge by Hallie Foote (daughter of the playwright) is rather desperately trying to impress upon her. Helpfully rehearsing right before the latest date, Foote exudes determinedly peppy advice and encouragement that appear totally lost on the girl. Devon Abner ably portrays Dolores' generally bemused husband, and Evan Jonigkeit is amusingly hapless as the young man trying to cope with Sarah Nancy's difficult personality.
The second play is unexpectedly grim, but fortunately brief. "The One-Armed Man," also set in 1928, features Jeremy Bobb as a smug, unpleasant mill owner, casually boasting to his hardworking, underpaid assistant (Abner again, now suitably obedient) about his own great achievements. A sudden reality check is provided by the intrusion of an angry former mill hand (Alexander Cendese), who was fired after he lost his arm in a machinery accident. Although MacKinnon admirably maximizes the tension, the dark tone of this play is a jarring contrast to the two more genteel stories.
"The Midnight Caller" focuses on a group of single women in a Harrison boarding house in 1952. Hallie Foote is the no-nonsense landlady, Mrs. Crawford, Green gives a sweet serenity to her portrayal of "Cutie" Spencer, a sweet young stenographer, while Mary Bacon is humorously sanctimonious as priggish, judgmental Alma Jean.
Jayne Houdyshell provides a lovely, bittersweet air for the reflective spinster known as Miss Rowena, whose sensitive analysis is required when some new arrivals stir things up romantically. A now-brisk Bobb portrays the home's first male boarder, divorced newcomer to town, Mr. Ralph Johnston. Jenny Dare Paulin plays a mournful young woman whose former fiance, (Cendese, in a brief but memorable appearance) has become a tragically out-of-control alcoholic, with their star-crossed love story an ongoing source of gossip for townsfolk.
This final tale is replete with the playwright's considerable ability to reveal, in plainspoken dialogue and clear-eyed characterizations, the constraints, heartbreak and poetic yearnings of inter-connected small-town lives.