The Carpetbagger's Children
The plays of Horton Foote are low-key and dwell on the small dramas of everyday experience, so in the wrong hands they can seem precious or dull. Ford's Theatre in Washington had the good sense to bring together three of the area's best actressesNancy Robinette and Holly Twyford, both of whom have received multiple Helen Hayes Awards, and Helen Hayes nominee Kimberly Schrafto infuse Foote's play The Carpetbagger's Children with life.
Foote set most of his plays around the town of Harrison, Texas, a fictionalized version of his hometown of Wheaton. In this play, three sisters recount their lives in Harrison as daughters of a Union soldier who returned to Texas after the Civil War (in Southern parlance, a carpetbagger). They tell their histories as monologues, barely interacting as they share the same family memories from different perspectives.
Cornelia (Schraf) describes how her father bought up property throughout the area and insisted that it remain intact following his death, rather than being divided among the heirs. She becomes the business manager of the estate because her brother doesn't understand making a living.
Grace Anne (Robinette) returns to the family after years as a pariah, first for marrying a man of whom her parents disapproved, then for trying to challenge her father's will. Sissie (Twyford) is a wide-eyed perpetual child with a lovely singing voice. They have dealt with the basic joys and disappointments of life: two of the sisters married, the other survived a crushing betrayal, and the generations keep passing.
Director Mark Ramont has worked with his actresses to create small-scale but highly detailed portraits: miniatures, one might say. The personalities come through in posture and facial expression: Schraf's determination in the face of exhaustion, Robinette's sense of relief and gratitude, and Twyford's rapturous glow.
The program lists the time of the play as "now," but that seems to be an eternal present since the family history starts around the early 1870s and continues far into the 20th century. Beyond that, the women tell how their (offstage) mother is still alive, although in a state of dementia that won't acknowledge the deaths of other family members. Robin Stapley's scenic design adds to the sense of dislocation with pieces of a living room surrounded by the broad Texas skyline.