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Signature Theatre Presents "The Old Friends" by Horton Foote at The Pershing Square Signature Center
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Signature Theatre Presents "The Old Friends" by Horton Foote at The Pershing Square Signature Center

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Signature Theatre Presents:
The Old Friends

By Horton Foote
Directed by Michael Wilson

Signature Theatre
(Signature Theatre Website)
James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director
Erika Mallin, Exec. Director
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 244-PLAY (7529)

Betty Buckley, Veanne Cox, Hallie Foote,
Adam LeFevre, Sean Lyons, Novella Nelson,
Melle Powers, Cotter Smith, Lois Smith

Scenic Design: Jeff Cowie
Costume Design: David C. Woolard
Lighting Design: Rui Rita
Original Music and Sound Design: John Gromada
Wig & Hair Design: Paul Huntley
Fight Direction: Mark Olsen
Dialect Coach: Gillian Lane-Plescia
Choreographer: Peter Pucci
Casting: Telsey + Company/William Cantler CSA
Production Stage Manager: Cole P. Bonenberger
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Assoc. Artistic Director: Beth Whitaker
General Manager: Adam Bernstein
Director of Marketing: David Hatkoff
Director of Production: Paul Ziemer

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 5, 2013

Every time a Horton Foote play is produced, it’s a gift to the audience. And, when Mr. Foote’s daughter, Hallie, is performing, it’s a double gift. This 1965 play, originally titled “The Dispossessed”, a title I consider more ŕ propos to the current work, was re-conceived several times in the 60’s and 70’s, and then enjoyed a staging in 1982 at HB Playwrights Foundation. In 2002 Signature Theatre brought Hallie Foote and Betty Buckley onstage for a reading of the now titled, The Old Friends, which was then enhanced to tonight’s Premiere production. As is expected in Foote dramatizations, the action takes place over two weeks in Harrison Texas, an imaginary town that evokes Foote’s hometown, Wharton, Texas. For this play, the setting is 1965. These very troubled and transparent characters are: Gertrude Hayhurst Sylvester Ratliff (Betty Buckley); Howard Ratliff (Cotter Smith), brother of Gertrude’s deceased husband; Sybil Borden (Hallie Foote), wife of Mamie Borden’s (Lois Smith) newly deceased son, Hugo; Julia Price (Veanne Cox), daughter of Mamie, and husband, Albert Price (Adam LeFevre); Tom Underwood (Sean Lyons), an eager young man who works the women; and Catherine (Melle Powers) and Hattie (Novella Nelson).

Throughout Act I, I was focused on discerning these relationships, as barbs and banter are thrown around amidst goblets of liquor, and interconnections are implied. But, the quality of acting is so superb, that one is magnetized to the dialogue and sometimes hilarious one-liners. Horton Foote’s dramatized families exude a combination of neediness, alienation, greed, revenge, low esteem, defiance, brooding, and competition, always with mesmerizing fascination. Their venting monologues or steely comments pierce the air with emotional thunder, as the heart speaks. Ms. Buckley is especially magnetic as the aging, frustrated Gertrude, with limitless available funds but limited remaining attraction. She howls for Howard, her property caretaker, but Howard howls for Sybil. Ms. Buckley’s body language is over the top seething, then explosive, especially when Howard makes his lack of interest clear. Ms. Foote is compelling as Sybil, as she slowly puts on her lady gloves, so small town 60’s, and as she sits quietly, poised like a python.

Mr. Smith presents machismo as Howard, especially as he fends off Gertrude, in direct pursuit of Sybil, whom, decades ago, he planned to wed. Ms. Cox is one of the most endearing, yet wily and wanton characters, as she portrays Julia with haughty, lascivious sensuality. She makes it clear, early on, that Albert is her albatross, nitwitted and burdensome. Mr. LeFevre, as Albert, plays the rejected mate with bristling bellicosity. Ms. Smith imbues the dispossessed matron of the manor, Mamie, with the sad naturalness of lonely aging and flustered disbelief. And, Mr. Lyons is a coy, unctuous Tom Underwood, who sees an open bedroom door, or two, that lead to riches. Michael Wilson has directed for requisite Horton Foote colloquialism, making this evening’s experience a delight. Jeff Cowie’s scenery includes Gertrude’s giant, distant bed, reminiscent of that of last season’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, as well as the comfortable, but cluttered, living rooms of Mamie and Julia, then of Sybil. John Gromada’s tropical music interludes reflect Sybil’s past explorations south of the border. The dialect coaching and sound design were both excellent, as the characters’ Southern articulation was credible and clear. Kudos to Horton Foote.

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