The Orphans' Home Cycle: Part 1

  • CON GAME Henry Hodges, left, guards Gilbert Owuor.

CON GAME Henry Hodges, left, guards Gilbert Owuor.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

If you think that nothing much happens in a Horton Foote play except for a lot of Texas porch palaver along the lines of “Tell me the story about how Mama met Papa,” you are in for a surprise at the first installment of The Orphans’ Home Cycle. Yes, these three one-act plays include leisurely strolls down memory lane, but there is so much life compressed here: greed, disease, murder, cruelty to children, the bitter legacy of slavery and a sad, ambivalent hero—Horace Robedaux, alienated observer of a family that abandoned him.

When Horace is 12, his beloved but dissolute father dies from drink. His mother remarries and moves to Houston with her controlling second husband and Horace’s spoiled kid sister, but the boy is left to fend for himself. Two years later, he’s working on a hellish sugarcane plantation populated by black convicts and sharecroppers, looking after its drunk, deranged white owner, before he enters adulthood and tries to reconnect with his family. But the damage has been done, and Horace grimly realizes that his roots have been cut. As in most Foote plays, the terse, quietly suffering characters are caught between the past and the future, hoping to reinvent themselves but also ensnared by a dimly remembered past.

Director Michael Wilson and his versatile, highly talented ensemble (including the radiant Hallie Foote, the late author’s daughter) wrestle their material into shape, delivering three hours of episodic narrative spanning 1902 to 1910 without a dull moment. Two more parts of this trilogy remain, and we shall see if Horace (now 20) finds his place in the world. Foote’s understated epic is an authentic American classic about the birth pangs of the 20th century. It’s told with humor, deep sadness and great writerly craft. I can’t wait to see what happens next.—David Cote

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Signature Theatre Company. By Horton Foote. Dir. Michael Wilson. With ensemble cast. 3hrs. Two intermissions.