I am reminded every day to be grateful. Some days it is easier than others. Harrison, TX: Three Plays reminded me that I am grateful for Horton Foote, Jayne Houdyshell and the discovery of Jeremy Bobb. And very grateful that I did not live in Harrison, Texas – at least not in these situations.
In this trilogy of plays, the first two set in 1928 and the last in 1956 Foote uses broad brushstrokes to show us people who are trapped in the most delicate of webs.
Blind Date is the tale of a hopeless niece visiting her peripatetic aunt. Sarah Nancy (Andrea Lynn Green) was sent with the hopes that she would do better at attracting gentlemen callers if she were in a neutral territory and under the supervision of her Aunt Dolores (Hallie Foote). Dolores is a devoted if not a bit anal wife and mother. She is married to Robert (Devon Abner) who doth provide but who cannot make his own dinner, even if it means opening two tins of chili and tamales. Her children are never seen and only referred to as “the children” because Foote is pointing us, not to marriage, but to the archaic and limiting mating rituals of couples in pre-depression Texas. Sarah Nancy could not be more resistant to the game and her caller Felix (Evan Joigkeit) could not be more obtuse. But in the end, when left to their own devices because the adults have lost interest or patience or both, they do just fine.
The One Armed Man is the story of just that. McHenry (Alexander Cendese) lost his arm in the Cotton Mill that is owned and run by C.W. Rowe (Jeremy Bobb). He wants it and has wanted it for some time. Rowe, confident that the country is on an upswing and impatient with any man that cannot figure out how to be prosperous, including his employee/lackey named Pinkey (Devon Aner). McHenry, equally confident that his life is ruined, is impatient with any man he deems responsible for the loss of his arm who cannot figure out how to give it back. In other hands this argument would go nowhere, but here we learn how Rowe showed more concern for his damaged cotton than the man whose arm got caught up in it. When the tables tip it is McHenry in the sad and horrible position of being judge and jury.
The Midnight Caller set in 1952 shows just how far no one had really traveled from 1928. It is the same dingy sort of house (a wonderful shifting set by Marion Williams) that is home to trapped women, and a new male arrival. Mrs. Crawford (Foote) runs the rooming house. Alma Jean Jordan (Mary Bacon), “Cutie” Spencer (Andrea Lynn Green) and Rowena Douglas (Jayne Houdyshell) are the current residents. Among them they are discussing the pros and cons of pretty much everything, but in particular it is the arrival of the two newest tenants: one Ralph Johnston (Jeremy Bobb) and one Helen Crews (Jenny Dare Paulin). Alma Jean does not approve of these choices – she rarely approves of anything – because one is a m-a-n and if she wanted to live in the same house with a man she would have married. The problem with Helen Crews is that she is trailing scandal with her. Seems as though Harvey Weems is besotted with her to the point where he spends most nights in front of her house wailing like mad man – which he sort of is. In many ways this is the weakest of the three plays with so much time spent in exposition. Even so the melancholy that pulls some people in and drives others away seeps out into the house a damp mist. This is a rooming house from which you can’t look away and to which you hope you will never go.
The outstanding work of Houdyshell and Bobb make the evening worth it. Houdyshell’s work is layered with the experience of living a life she doesn’t like but has accepted. She is settled and sad. Bobb’s turns both as the self-referential boss and as the boarder who upsets the cart – mostly by listening – shows his skill and confidence as an actor. He knows his craft and respects his place on the stage. What a pleasure to watch. As well, Alexander Cendese is masterful as the discarded Weems and gives the part of McHenry a full throttled landing.
The rest of the cast performance are uneven and may very well find firmer ground as the run progresses. I bet they will. This may be due in part to the uninspired direction of Ms. McKinnon that fails to give much spark to this Texas landscape. Hallie Foote has been the custodian of her father’s work, and for that she deserves high thanks and great praise. Her performances, however, feel one-note and never match the height of her dedication to this material.
But in the end, it is Horton Foote that we hear stitching people’s lives together word by insignificant word. A fire fly, a college yearbook, a teddy bear, a lonely howl from a jail cell – these are like tiny seed pearls that the characters find loose on the street and pass among themselves. Foote creates tapestries that make you look at your own life as part of something much larger, no matter where you live.
"Directed with an artfully light hand by Pam MacKinnon."
Ben BRantley for New York Times
"A short play can pack a lasting wallop. The wonderful “Harrison, TX,” a trio of intimate portraits by the late, great Horton Foote, does that in triplicate."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Nothing much happens in Horton Foote’s plays, yet you leave feeling satisfyingly full. He may skimp on the whiz-bang action, but Foote manages to say a lot about his characters — and you almost don’t realize he’s doing it. He’s like a master painter whose small, precise brush strokes can fill a large canvas."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Foote was a master miniaturist, and "Harrison, TX" is definite proof of that old adage that good things can come in small packages."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"Directed with impressive clarity by Pam McKinnon, Harrison, TX is a fine if limited sampling of Horton Foote's depth, wisdom and insight."
Roma Torre for NY1
"The only problem with this intermission-less 100-minute program is that it leaves one craving more."
Michael Summers for Newsroom Jersey
"This is the kind of small town heartbreak that Foote always manages to elevate into high tragedy. He manages it here, too, but with a barrage of verbiage that would surely not have survived a smart rewrite."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...