The Old Friends: in brief
Betty Buckley, Lois Smith and Hallie Foote lead the cast of this previously unstaged family drama by the late American master Horton Foote, in which two long-settled Texas clans must deal with unsettling news. Longtime Foote soldier Michael Wilson directs.
The Old Friends: theater review by David Cote
By now, we’ve spent so many hours among the denizens of Horton Foote’s Harrison, Texas, that the fictional town is as familiar as the setting of a beloved soap opera. That daytime-melodrama vibe is surprisingly present in The Old Friends, Foote’s long-reworked and never-produced play about monetized human relations. Recent productions of the late master’s understated gems (The Trip to Bountiful, The Orphans’ Home Cycle and Dividing the Estate) have been easy to love, but this problematic piece feels as if the playwright was unconsciously channeling the influences of his contemporaries William Inge and Tennessee Williams. Shy, middle-aged lovers evoke the first writer; a boozy, ball-breaking diva reminds you of the latter. Of course, we still get Foote’s folksy, nostalgic banter, under which lies great sadness and pain. But the story elements rarely coalesce to satisfaction.
Basic clarity is an issue. The first act is confusing; you may struggle to sort out who is related to whom and what terrible burdens they carry. Sybil (Hallie Foote) has returned to her hometown after years spent among the oil fields of Venezuela. Howard (Cotter Smith) is the good man she should have married, if she hadn’t been scared off by his brother. Howard, though, is in thrall to drunken, manipulative Getrude (Betty Buckley), the town rich lady, who’s determined not to let him slip away.
Veteran Foote director Michael Wilson keeps the uneven dramaturgy from flying too far off the rails, but even he can’t impose tonal sense on the jagged terrain. The result is a well-acted and picturesque show, but one that, at times, feels like it should be squeezed between ads for diapers and Palmolive.—Theater review by David Cote
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote
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