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Harrison, TX

Primary Stages offers an expertly acted trio of Horton Foote's affecting one-act plays. logo
A scene from Harrison, TX
(© James Leynse)
Horton Foote's plays often appear deceptively small while actually containing large observations of life as it's lived universally. As a result, Harrison,TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote, the three one-acts being presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters, directed adroitly by Pam MacKinnon, aren't cause for a tiny celebration -- but a big fat one.

As fans of the late Pulitzer Prize and Oscar winner know, Foote was born in Wharton, Texas to a typically story-telling family, and grew up listening -- and obviously retaining what he'd heard. Whether he eventually turned these tales verbatim into his manifold works isn't so much the issue as his unerring ability -- as proven in this highly satisfactory and expertly acted trio of plays -- to capture the attitudes, humanity, and manners of the people among whom he matured.

In the opener, Blind Date, set in 1928, Harrison matron Dolores (Hallie Foote) is worried that her anti-social visiting niece Sarah Nancy (Andrea Lynn Green) is deterring her gentlemen callers. Trying to help, she's arranged for back-slapping neighbor Felix (Evan Jonigkeit) to appear one evening and woo the the impassive young woman.

In preparing Sarah Nancy to keep the conversation flowing -- while man-of-the-house Robert (Devon Abner) stands by pleading for his supper -- Dolores parrots every period platitude on landing a man. Still, Sarah Nancy increasingly sticks to the dictates of her own independent mind. The expected friction, added to by Felix's hurt feelings, results in a simultaneously hilarious and affecting comedy with Foote's name written all over it.

The evening's second vignette The One-Armed Man, set the same year, switches tone dramatically. Here, arrogant cotton merchant C. W. Rowe (Jeremy Bobb) tries to get easily-cowed accountant Pinkey (Abner) to discourage local lad "Nup" McHenry (Alexander Cendese) from another of his weekly visits.

However, McHenry, who lost his arm to a cotton-picking machine while working at the company, won't rest until Rowe returns it. Needless to say, the request is irrational, but, as Foote knows, there's no reasoning with an irrational man. Indeed, McHenry's anger increases until there's an explosive denouement -- one which contains harsh psychological insights into the sorts of disgruntled young men making headlines right this minute.

In the final (and longest) work, The Midnight Caller, set in 1952, we quickly meet irascible Alma Jean Jordan (Mary Bacon), sensitive "Cutie" Spencer (Green), and wise and resigned teacher Miss Rowena Douglas (Jayne Houdyshell), all of whom live in the boarding-house owned by Mrs. Crawford (Foote).

Their "serenity" is threatened when Mrs. Crawford invites divorced Mr. Ralph Johnson (Bobb) into their midst -- a development that particularly galls Alma Jean -- and also simultaneously offers local gal Helen Crews (Jenny Dare Paulin) a room.

Crews has been thrown out of her mother's house for dating rich, chronic drunk Harvey Weems (Cendese), who habitually cries for his former fiancee outside Mrs. Crawford's windows. How this development unsettles everyone in the household contributes enormously to the funny-sad portrait on display.

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