Primary Stages is a reliable off-Broadway company that consistently mounts dramas most Broadway houses would not. Essentially they are theater's equivalent of indie movies, quirky and individual, and because of that they have developed a loyal audience.
The company, in the process of showcasing the Foote family at 59E59 Theatres, presented "Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote" this summer.
"HIM," which opens Tuesday, Oct. 9, is written by Foote's daughter, Daisy, and stars another daughter, Hallie.
Comparing the daughter to the father is not fair; he wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the Pulitzer-winning play "The Young Man From Atlanta." Yet if their plays are presented as a group celebrating the family, it is difficult to ignore the familial ties, and to not draw comparisons.
This, unfortunately, is nowhere near as engaging as his work. In fact, it's not engaging at all.
The play relies on a device so often it becomes tiresome. Early in the first act, Pauline ( Hallie Foote, Broadway's "Dividing the Estate") or Henry ( Tim Hopper, TV's "Blue Bloods") advances the narrative by giving an expository monologue. Once or twice this could be effective, but used so constantly, it is repetitive and feels lazy.
Pauline is a one-note character. Humorless, bitter, judgmental, parsimonious -- if the term spinster were still used, she would be described as such. It's easy to understand why she embodies all of these rather unpleasant characteristics.
She and her two brothers Henry and Farley (the terrific Adam LeFevre, Broadway's "Guys and Dolls," TV's "Recount"), grew up in an unhappy household in New England. Their sad little home is behind their parents' general store.
Everything is moribund: their father lies upstairs dying. The store is just about out of business, basic items are no longer stocked. They are out of money. They even finish off Pauline's last box of wine.
All is bleak.
Henry, who is gay, has returned home. Farley is developmentally disabled. Pauline has always taken care of Farley, runs what is left of the store, and tries to take care of the father, whom we don't see. Even her only joy is heartbreaking.
She had been pregnant in high school; the boy abandoned her, and the baby died. That baby girl haunts her dreams, yet that vision is all she has to live for. It is a completely bleak life.
The dad dies, and unbeknownst to them, he left a sizable inheritance, all in land. Pauline takes to the possibility of becoming a developer though Henry is reluctant. Meanwhile, Louise ( Adina Verson), also developmentally disabled, has moved across the street. She has more of a spark in her than Farley. Then again, Pauline long snuffed out any spark Farley had.
Louise and Farley take to each other and soon she is pregnant and they are married. Pauline is intent on proving correct that no good can come of this union, though she does at least love the baby and get to fulfill that dream of hers, to take care of a baby.
Henry and Pauline fight over the inheritance and whether to follow their father's wishes.
It's superfluous to know if Daisy Foote were following her father's wishes to become a playwright, but were her last name not Foote it is difficult to imagine this being staged.
Photo/Video credit: James Leynse