Daisy Foote's new play about a dysfunctional New Hampshire family demands attention.
Although there are some troublesome aspects to Daisy Foote's Him, now being presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters, too much about the author's new work about a dysfunctional Tremont, New Hampshire family demands attention.
It's the spring of 2003, and siblings Pauline (Hallie Foote), Henry (Tim Hopper), and Farley (Adam LeFevre) live in the family home attached to their failing store, while their elderly father, the "him" of the title, languishes upstairs dying.
Pauline is unmarried and still dreaming of the stillborn child who died decades ago; Henry is a frustrated, pill-popping homosexual who has seemingly given up on life, and Farley has the sometimes endearing, sometimes truculent mind of a child – which doesn't stop him from impregnating much younger neighbor Louise (Adina Verson), who is equally mentally challenged. (There is some patronization in Foote's drawing of Farley and Louise, no matter how effectively LeFevre and Verson play them.)
Pauline, who has long been aware that her impoverished family is in danger of losing everything, soon takes charge of everything and everyone after "Him" has died and leaves large plots of nearby land to his children. She quickly decides to turn that valuable acreage into an upscale housing development -- never mind that Henry knows his father wanted the mountain left unchanged and eventually refuses to sign a contract stipulating otherwise.
While almost everything Pauline says when bossing her brothers around is acid-coated, everything Henry utters is defeatist, and everything the Teletubby-like Farley sputters is slightly garbled, their voices changes distinctly as they recite impressively poetic speeches that begin with reference to a year as early as 1949.
However, it may take too long for the audience to figure out that, in these sequences, the characters are not speaking, but "Him" is being quoted through his copious journal entries.
A more crucial problem for some theatergoers may be that the piece is too noticeably a spin on Dividing the Estate, written by Foote's father, Horton -- another play about the rifts that occur when family members tussle over an inheritance. Moreover, the always remarkable Hallie Foote is asked by director Evan Yionoulis to give a performance that is simply too close to her characterization in that earlier work.
However, the author finishes strongly -- including providing suitable explanations for the father's estrangement from the family and devising a devastating and touching parting blow -- proving she is a playwright with something extremely perceptive to say and someone to watch in the future.