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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

The Orphans' Home Cycle:
The Story of a Childhood

Hartford Stage

Orphan's Home Cycle
Jenny Dare Paulin and Bill Heck
Episodic and wonderfully vivid, Horton Foote's The Orphans' Home Cycle, nine plays featured in separate groups of three, continues at Hartford Stage through October 24th. In early November the production transfers to the Signature Theatre Company in New York City. Michael Wilson, a close friend and studious interpreter of the late playwright, opened the first segment, The Story of a Childhood two weeks ago.

Hartford Stage configures something of a proscenium effect for the production. Designers Jeff Cowie and David Barber present a quilted look as fabric frames the performance space. The creative team, utilizing projection, devises a cinematic atmosphere for the piece and this is enhancing.

The fictional locale, Harrison, Texas, is based upon Wharton, the town where Foote grew up. A prologue, in 1910, introduces Horace Robedaux (Bill Heck)—in essence, Foote's father. The first act is entitled "Roots in a Parched Ground," a one hour exposition. Many of the actors who take on various roles within the saga are brought on stage. Young Horace (Dylan Riley Snyder) is only 12 years old and his sister Lily Dale (Georgi James) just 10. The dialogue is dry and beautifully understated—detailed, specific Horton Foote. Set in 1902-1903, young Horace is faced with a broken family since his parents are not living together. His father passes on and his mother Corella (Virginia Kull) marries again but Horace's new stepfather is mean-spirited.

During its second hour and act, the scene shifts to Floyd's Lane, Texas, just one year later. The component, called "Convicts," is thematically centered around death—and life. Comedic Soll Gautier (James DeMarse) runs on and on about his coffin and his imminent positioning within the wooden box. Horace, now 14 (and played by Henry Hodges), gets an immediate taste of the coarse and difficult lives of some "prisoners." The force behind the scene is Soll, a store owner on this plantation. Convicts have been sent here, times are impossibly difficult, and Soll would just as soon fire his shotgun—again and again and again.

The third act of The Story of a Childhood, called "Lily Dale," focuses upon Horace (Bill Heck), now twenty, and his visit to Houston to see his mother Corella (Annalee Jefferies) and his younger sister Lily Dale (Jenny Dare Paulin). Horace, seriously ill, cannot leave Houston even if his mother's husband Pete Davenport (Devon Abner) fully rejects his stepson's presence. Lily, who demands that all listen to her as she plays the piano, wishes to show off her beau, Will Kidder (Stephen Plunkett), to her brother. Horace, again, finds he hasn't a home.

After the moving prologue, Roots in a Parched Ground serves as a primer for much of what follows. This is a necessity. "Convicts" is funny, even if the situation is rather grim. The second section is a show-and-tell and feels as if a short story is enacted on stage; this is most positive. Act three finds Horace suffering amid his family. It's affecting. One leaves wondering just how his future will unfold—the stuff of successive parts of this nine play journey.

Wilson directs knowingly and carefully, honoring Foote with attention to detail the writer would have appreciated. The quality of acting is quite high. Foote's daughter, Hallie, appears as elderly Mrs. Robedaux early in the evening and then as Asa Vaughn in "Convicts." In all, more than 20 actors take on upwards of 70 roles throughout the entirety of the cycle. All pay homage to Foote, who surely would have appreciated both the depth and scope of the production.

The various plays within The Orphans' Home Cycle continue at Hartford Stage through October 24th. For further schedule and ticket information, call (860) 527-5151 or visit hartfordstage.org.


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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