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Horton Foote's "The Orphans’ Home Cycle" at Signature Theatre Company
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Horton Foote's "The Orphans’ Home Cycle" at Signature Theatre Company

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The Orphans’ Home Cycle
Part One – The Story of a Childhood
Part Two – The Story of a Marriage
Part Three – The Story of a Family

By Horton Foote
(Horton Foote Bio)

Directed by Michael Wilson

Signature Theatre Company
(Signature Theatre Company Website)
The Peter Norton Space
555 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 244-PLAY (7529)

Devon Abner, Mike Boland, Pat Bowie,
Leon Addison Brown, James DeMarse, Hallie Foote,
Justin Fuller, Jasmine Amii Harrison, Bill Heck,
Henry Hodges, Annalee Jefferies, Virginia Kull,
Maggie Lacey, Gilbert Owuor, Jenny Dare Paulin,
Pamela Payton-Wright, Bryce Pinkham, Stephen Plunkett,
Emily Robinson, Lucas Caleb Rooney,
Dylan Riley Snyder, Charles Turner

Scenic Design: Jeff Cowie and David M. Barber
Costume Design: David C. Woolard
Lighting Design: Rui Rita
Original Music and Sound Design: John Gromada
Projections: Jan Hartley
Hair & Wig Design: Mark Adam Rampmeyer
Choreography/Movement Direction: Peter Pucci
Fight Direction: Mark Olsen
Assoc. Director: Maxwell Williams
Casting: Telsey + Company
Vocal and Dialect Coach: Ralph Zito
Production Manager: Paul Ziemer
Production Stage Manager: Cole B. Bonenberger
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Marketing: David Hatkoff
General Manager: Adam Bernstein

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 13, Mat., Eve., March 14, Mat., 2010

Seeing Horton Foote’s The Orphans’ Home Cycle for over nine hours on two very stormy, rain-soaked days, was emotionally uplifting, as well as exhilarating. At the end, I truly missed the characters, a feeling of separation, like living in another clan’s world, in another time, another space. This first-time-ever staging of all three plays, each consisting of three one-act stories, follows the Robedaux, the Vaughns, their offspring, friends, siblings, and neighbors in Harrison, Texas, from 1902 to 1928. Horton Foote died at 92, in the midst of preparing this trilogy for the Hartford Stage, and subsequently for the Signature Theatre Company, but, luckily, the indomitable and tenacious Hallie Foote, Mr. Foote’s actor-daughter-collaborator, worked with the equally tireless Director, Michael Wilson, and their results are a huge success.

I was not only absorbed minute by minute, breathlessly anticipating each seamless sequence, but I was enveloped in the minutiae of Jeff Cowie and David M. Barber’s authentically conceived scenery and Jan Hartley’s cinematic projections, all of which added historical and aesthetic depth to an extraordinarily impressive production. Part One-The Story of a Childhood introduces Horace Robedaux (Bill Heck) in 1910, in a Prologue, bouncing on a railroad car with Mrs. Coons (Pamela Payton-Wright), on his way to visit his remarried mother, at the age of 20. Then Foote brings us back to 1902 (Roots in a Parched Ground), with Horace at 12 (Dylan Riley Snyder), fishing and wondering where he will live, after his father dies of alcohol, and his mother, Corella (Virginia Kull), takes his sister, Lily Dale (Emily Robinson), on to her new life with the self-serving Pete Davenport (Bryce Pinkham). Hallie Foote is introduced here as Horace’s prickly grandmother.

Horace’s rootlessness and his search for a home are the poignant threads that sew the trilogy with pain, pathos, and perseverance. Horace eventually, through decades of determination, becomes one of the most settled and satisfied of all 70 or so characters. Horace’s upbringing by an uncle and his work on a plantation unfold in Convicts, where we meet James DeMarse as Soll Gautier, the tough owner, taskmaster. It’s 1904, and Floyd’s Lane, Texas couldn’t be a creepier hole in the woods. Horace at 14 is played by Henry Hodges. But, the scene shifts to Houston, 1910, in Lily Dale, with his conceited sister’s (Jenny Dare Paulin) relationship with Will Kidder (Stephen Plunkett), a well-dressed braggadocio, and his mother’s relationship with the sadistic Pete Davenport (Devon Abner), and even Mrs. Coons is back. His mother is now Annalee Jefferies, and this is the Prologue scene to which Horace was traveling. Yet, there was no bed or space for Horace. Only a fever and collapse brought him the favor of rest. He left more mature and resigned than he was on arrival and seized his remaining years with newfound autonomy.

Part Two-The Story of a Marriage begins with The Widow Claire in 1912 Harrison. At this point, the indefatigable Bill Heck will appear in all the remaining six one-hour stories in the two remaining plays, all set in Harrison, with the exception of one split-scene story in the final play. His performances are mesmerizing and subtle. Here, he begins to make his own life as an adult, stripped of a home and family. Widow Claire Ratliff (Virginia Kull) flirts with three gentlemen callers, Horace among them, and he’s the favorite of her children, Molly and Buddy. She has a wild streak, looking for excitement and machismo, even in 1912, and, to Horace’s fortune, she chooses another. In Courtship, 1916, Horace’s luck seals his future, when he meets Elizabeth Vaughn (Maggie Lacey), who will now also appear in all remaining stories. Hallie Foote is now Mrs. Vaughn, with James DeMarse as Mr. Vaughn. This repertory company brings incredible talent to its multi-shifting roles, but now the two Vaughns, as well, are set for the remainder of the plays. And, Horace has found his family.

The Vaughns are reluctant for Elizabeth to marry, let alone have a gentleman caller, and many obstacle courses appear. Elizabeth had lost a young sister, an earlier beau had betrayed her, and death was happening all around town. These are not fairy tale plots, nor fairy tale characters. But, the chemistry between Horace and Elizabeth, Bill Heck and Maggie Lacey, matched by the equally resolute closeness of Mr. and Mrs. Vaughn, James DeMarse and Hallie Foote, is the glue that wards off most of the seen and unseen dangers that threaten every resident of Harrison. When the Vaughns don’t approve of marriage, Horace and Elizabeth elope. It was Valentine’s Day, 1917, and the scene is luminous, with Horace now a husband. Now it’s the Vaughns who will make the 180 degree emotional shift to save their family ties.

Part Three-The Story of a Family finds Horace and Elizabeth in the 1918 flu pandemic, and the flu invades their home in a very painful way. The second story, Cousins, 1925, brings back Lily Dale (Jenny Dare Paulin) and husband, Will Kidder (Stephen Plunkett), who still throws his weight around as if he owns the family. The third and final story, bringing the stalwart, three-play audience to a separation anxiety attack, was .The Death of Papa, in 1928, with James DeMarse in a coffin once again (In Part One, Convicts, he tried out the coffin for size before he needed it). Brother Vaughn (Bryce Pinkham) is now alone with Mrs. Vaughn (Hallie Foote), the mother with a heart of melted steel, and she puts him in charge of the family business, even though he’s been in jail. She’s his sun and his salvation. But, as much as Horace was the lifelong orphan, in so many ways, he’s now a proud father, with Horace, Jr. (Dylan Riley Snyder, who may be the persona of Horton Foote, himself), glued to his books. One more baby will arrive to Horace and Elizabeth (Henry, named for Mr. Vaughn), but the next generational cycle will be different for some and the same for others.

Walking out of the theatre, in the weekend-long rain, I thought of the graveyard umbrella scene, with projections and sound effects, seeming to bring today’s outside storm inside. In fact, Jan Hartley’s transporting projections, Cowie and Barber’s period, detailed sets and David C. Woolard’s storybook costumes were all remarkably first-rate. I hope this Cycle moves to Broadway. I can’t imagine these sets languishing in storage, especially Horace’s own walk-in haberdashery. John Gromada’s music and sound design never overwhelms, always enhances, as does Rui Rita’s quintessential luminosity. For the occasional dance, Peter Pucci brings retro choreography appropriate to time and place. Finally, it’s Michael Wilson and Signature Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, James Houghton, assisted by Hallie Foote and the writings of Horton Foote, that complete the list of shining stars in this dramatic trilogy of nine heart-rending stories. They were so lifelike, I kept wondering, on the way home, what would happen to Horace and Elizabeth and Brother Vaughn and Lily Dale………Kudos to everyone involved in this Cycle.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at