Given their considerable variations in quality, length and tone, it might seem that the only thing holding together the three Horton Foote one-acts in Harrison, TX is their setting and the name of the writer. But upon closer inspection, and viewed in succession, they coalesce into a picking apart of rural Southern life. In the first piece, Blind Date, a waif and an oaf refuse to meet cute under the hawklike gaze of the young lady’s mother (the wonderful Hallie Foote, the late playwright’s daughter); it has points to make about social pressure and the limitations placed on women, but it’s a little clumsy and stultifyingly quaint. Next comes the brutal The One-Armed Man, about a callous cotton-mill owner and an employee he fires after a horrifying accident—a straightforward indictment of good-old-boy hypocrisy.
The normally assured director Pam MacKinnon seems uneasy with the narrowness of the first two plays’ concerns; in the third, however, her work comes off beautifully. Set in a women’s boardinghouse that is beginning to accept male tenants, The Midnight Caller mixes the freighted gender dynamics of the first piece with the rage of the second. It is easily the most textured and interesting panel in Primary Stages’ triptych, not least because it has the most characters; and it benefits from a confident turn by Mary Bacon, who has a kind of Southernness you can’t get from an accent recording, and whose splendidly rude interactions with the pretty Jenny Dare Paulin are the highlight of the evening. Written in 1956, The Midnight Caller may be the oldest of the three plays (the others are from 1985), but it also feels the most urgent.—Sam Thielman