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INTERVIEW: Hallie Foote Takes A Sentimental Journey to Harrison, TX

The award-winning actress shares her feelings about starring in Primary Stages' production of her father, Horton Foote's, one-act plays. logo
Evan Jonigkeit and Hallie Foote
in Harrison, TX
(© James Leynse)
Although Horton Foote died in March 2009 at age 92, New York has seen a steady influx of his theater works since then: his play Dividing the Estate moved to Broadway after a successful 2008 run at Primary Stages, and the nine-play The Orphans' Home Cycle at Signature Theater won a special Drama Desk Award. Now, a trio of one-acts under the umbrella title, Harrison, TX, is being presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters.

"It's a part of all of our desire to keep my father out there, front and center," says Foote's daughter, Hallie Foote, who has started The Horton Foote Legacy Foundation along with her two brothers, Horton Jr. and Walter, and her sister, Daisy, also a playwright.

Hallie, who has established gilt-edged acting credentials in her appearances in her father's works, has roles in two of the Harrison, TX pieces; in the first, Blind Date, she's a determined aunt trying to persuade a recalcitrant niece to go on a date with a suitor the niece can't abide. And in the third offering, Midnight Caller, she plays a boardinghouse proprietress in a story about love gone painfully wrong.

"The first one is kind of funny. I think it's one of his great comic plays," says Foote. "And the second one, One-Armed, is sort of an unexpectedly dark play. I don't want to give too much away, but it's a crueler play; he usually doesn't write plays like this. And the last one is different in style as well. So the evening goes from this very funny thing to this sort of darker thing, and then it emerges into this lyrical, beautiful piece that sort of represents the best of my dad."

Originally written as a TV script and presented in 1952, Midnight Caller had a Sanford Meisner production at the Neighborhood Playhouse. "Bob Duvall was in it," Foote recalls. "My mom remembered seeing him, and he got the part of Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird that way."

The play, which is one of Hallie's favorites, is about a man raising a nightly ruckus at a boardinghouse, wailing for the woman he wronged. "I was re-reading that play this morning, and it's about being able to separate and move on -- and that's hard to do," she says. "It has a kind of magical realism, because there's this moonlight and a lot of it takes place at night, And what Pam [MacKinnon, the director] is doing with it is interesting. As the plays progress, they get less realistic in terms of the sets and the designs."

The large ensemble cast of Harrison, TX includes such celebrated performers as Tony Award nominee Jayne Houdyshell, but perhaps Foote's most notable co-star is her husband, Devon Abner. "He's playing my husband in Blind Date, which is great!" she says. "I feel very fortunate to be able to do so many plays with him."

And speaking of keeping things in the family, she'll be in Daisy's new play, Him, which begins a run at Primary Stages in late September. "This play is about a family and the loss of a parent, and the subsequent issue of legacy," says Hallie.

And, yes, there are more plays by her father that Foote would like to bring to New York. "I saw a reading of one called The Land of the Astronauts, and I thought, 'Oh, my God, it's about people today!'" she exclaims. "It's about this existential angst that people feel and they don't know quite why, and they feel lost. There's also a play called The Habitation of Dragons that I think is a beautiful play that I'd love to have done here."

However, doing these plays without her father's input is bittersweet. "I really miss my dad," she says. "If ever I felt insecure, I could kind of check in with him." But even now, she says, whenever she has a problem or question about a moment in one of his plays, "I sort of say, 'Come on, help me out here. What would you say? What would you think? What would you feel about this?' And I try to just get quiet and listen in my own way to what I think he'd feel about it."

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