Love Makes A Difference: Orphans’ Home Cycle Review Part II
When last we met Horace Robedaux, the main character in Horton Foote’s nine-play epic “The Orphans’ Home Cycle,” he was in a bad way – penniless, feverish, all but abandoned by his family, praying on a train with an elderly stranger. That was the end of Part I (here is my review of Part I). At the beginning of Part II, two years later, we first see Horace dancing…with several women. Times are looking up.
Director Michael Wilson adds this lovely wordless opening, complete with music and parasols and a cool silhouette effect, as a preview to the considerably happier goings-on of the next three plays in the cycle, collectively entitled “The Story of A Marriage.” The title is somewhat misleading: This is a story about love, focusing on Horace’s pursuit of it as his path towards stability and contentment. (Oddly enough, the opening and the theme have their echo in the revival of “A Little Night Music” about ten blocks away, although there the similarities end.)
“The Story of A Marriage” is not just a charming look at love and contentment, since this is Horton Foote; his consideration of life in a small Texas town from 1912 to 1917 is tinged with sadness, and tales (not always off-stage) of unrequited romance, unhappy marriages, drunkenness, dissipation, even several deaths, including a suicide and a murder. There are regrets and resentments, fears and frustrations. But all of this is treated matter-of-factly, as if the characters accept that this is what life has to offer. The three plays of “The Story of A Marriage” — “The Widow Claire,” “Courtship,” and “Valentine’s Day” — are in their plain underplayed way so engaging, so moving, that at several moments it can be hard to avoid the embarrassing spectacle of quietly crying in your seat at the Peter Norton Space of the Signature Theater Company. Beware of such a moment, for example, in the speech where the normally taciturn Horace finally opens up, saying lines like “I am no orphan, but I think of myself as an orphan, belonging to no one but you.”
For all the moving moments, there are also plenty of amusing ones, especially in “The Widow Claire,” which seems almost as if Foote had taken on a writing exercise for himself: How bratty could he make Claire’s two fatherless children — peppering Horace with questions; asking him to give them a nickle or dance with their mother or tuck them in; calling on him incessantly for help — and still make them both likable and credible as children.
The young actors, Dylan Riley Snyder and Emily Robinson, don’t play their characters sitcom cute, just as the rest of the members of the cast don’t sink to soap opera or fluff things up into farce. There are stand-outs in Part II, such as James DeMarse as the pompous Mr. Vaughn, for whom we wind up, to our astonishment, feeling sympathy (and whose performance in the role is all the more amazing when a look at the program reveals that this is the same actor who played the insane plantation owner Soll Gautier). But there is a uniform self-control in the huge cast (all of whom have roles in the other two parts of the cycle as well) that does Foote’s work a great service. Bill Heck’s performance as Horace is representative; he reminds me of a young Kevin Costner (before the onset of megalomania), a generous big brother type, respectful to his elders and quiet in the face of disappointment, who omits unnecessary gesture or expression “for the same reason” (as E.B. White wrote in a different context) “that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
While it helps to have seen “Part I – The Story of A Childhood” in order to understand a few passing references in Part II, I do not think it is necessary. “The Story Of A Marriage” can stand on its own. Together, though, they add up to something extraordinary — which is to say, something extra ordinary.
The Orphans’ Home Cycle, By Horton Foote
Part Two – The Story of A Marriage
Through March 28th at the Peter Norton Space of Signature Theater Company, 555 West 42nd Street
Directed by Michael Wilson
Scenic design by Jeff Cowie and David M. Barber, costume design by David C. Woolard, lighting design by Rui Rita; music and sound by John Gromada, projections by Jan Hartley, wig and hair design by Mark Adam Rampmeyer; choreography and movement by Peter Pucci; fight director, Mark Olsen; vocal and dialect coach, Ralph Zito Space
Cast: Devon Abner (Roger Culpepper/Bobby Pate), Mike Boland (Mr. Ritter/Billy Vaughn) Pat Bowie (Eliza), James DeMarse (Mr. Vaughn), Hallie Foote (Mrs. Vaughn), Justin Fuller (Ed Cordray/Dr. Greene), Bill Heck (Horace Robedaux), Annalee Jefferies (Lucy Vaughn Stewart), Virginia Kull (Claire Ratliff, Bessie Stillman), Maggie Lacey (Elizabeth Robedaux), Jenny Dare Paulin (Laura Vaughn), Pamela Payton-Wright (Sarah Vaughn, Ruth Amos), Bryce Pinkham (Felix Barclay, Brother Vaughn), Stephen Plunkett (Archie Gordon/Steve Tyler), Lucas Caleb Rooney (Val Stanton, George Tyler), Dylan Riley Snyder (Buddy).
Running time: three hours with two ten-minute intermissions.
Ticket price: $20 until March.
Note: The Orphans’ Home Cycle is in three parts. Part 2, “The Story of A Marriage” opened December 17; Part 3, “The Story of a Family,” January 26, 2010. They will play in repertory.
Photograph of “Part Two – The Story of A Marriage” by Gregory Costanzo. Maggie Lacey and Bill Heck; Jenny Dare Paulin and Maggie Lacey; Bill Heck
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