Three One Act Plays by Horton Foote
Directed by Pam McKinnon
Primary Stages at 59E59

Reviewed by David Spencer

Harrison, TX at Primary Stages is something of a Horton Foote anthology, featuring three one-acts, two of which are substantial, one of which seems a nonessential notion.

               The two more solid works represent the essential Foote in their exploration of daily life minutiae: There’s no mystery about content in most Foote titles, either. Blind Date, set in 1928, has a late-teenage boy (Evan Jonigkeit) visiting the home of a late-teenage girl (Andrea-Lynn Green) at the best of their mothers; his offstage, hers (Hallie Foote) there with her wryly observing husband (Devon Abner). Why is wryness called for? Well, the keenness of the participants to make it work may be in some doubt. And the play is a sweet little comment on social expectation. The third play is about reputation: The Midnight Caller, set in 1952, takes place in a boarding house which has a new female tenant (Jenny Dare Paulin) is causing some controversy, owing to a prior “scandalous” relationship. But of course nobody talking about it truly knows the whole story.

               The second play of the evening is where Harrison, TX reminds us how it’s but a hair’s breadth that separates Foote’s best from his misfires. Though there’s a certain wit of observation in a Foote play, there’s very little in the way of overt verbal wit. He’s very interested in the way the kind of people he writes about really talk—the illusion of it anyway—and repeated “mantras” can often figure into a character profile by way of defining a philosophical view or an obsession. In The One-Armed Man, he pits the one against the other: one of the town’s most successful businessmen, a typical richy who spouts platitudes but has long since lost any true empathy he may have had for the working man (Jeremy Bobb) against a former employee (Alexander Cendese), let go after a devastating injury, who only, monolithically, wants that injury addressed. “Give me back my arm.” The play never quite gets past its basic premise, and the story it tells is little more than an obvious, tragic sketch.

               Still, it’s not dull, and if that’s the best one can say of it, it’s the worst one can say of the rest, all of which are subtly directed by Pam McKinnon. The rest of the excellent ensemble includes Mary Bacon and the seemingly ubiquitous Jayne Houdyshell.

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