by Toby Zinman
for The Inquirer
Harrison, Tx is not “Three Plays by Horton Foote.” It’s three pieces of plays Horton Foote apparently abandoned, and it does the revered playwright of the folksy no favor to mount these awkward and random fragments.
Their locale and the accents and the “back-in-the-day” atmosphere link the three; the first two take place in 1928, the third in 1952. Nothing much seems to have changed in the intervening years, the Depression and World War II notwithstanding. Women still have two first names (Billie Jo, Sarah Nancy, Alma Jean) and are expected to learn how to “converse” nearly nonstop which most of them do. Generally, the men are patronizing—or else nuts--while the women are lonely, and there is enough moral righteousness around to butter bread. And nobody ever defies their mamas.
The two powerful actresses who anchor these flimsy pieces are Hallie Foote, the late author’s daughter, and Jayne Houdyshell, and they are such a pleasure to watch that the program is nearly worth your time. But not quite.
Philly’s own homegrown heartthrob, Evan Jonigkeit, is the titular “Blind Date” in the first piece. A sullen niece is fixed up by her aunt with a nerdy young man whose mother has twisted his arm. Jonigkeit has two goofy things to do, and does them charmingly, but this skit is neither funny enough nor developed enough for us to care about what happens to anybody.
“The One-Armed Man” is about a man who lost his arm in a cotton gin accident, and every other week he comes to the boss’s office to demand his arm back. On the day of the play’s action, he comes with a gun (apparently he was always left-handed, since he’s such a good shot without his right arm).
“The Midnight Caller” takes place in a boarding house where a group of single women are thrown into a tizzy by the addition of, first, a male boarder and then a young woman whose mother has evicted her from their family home after a long scandalous courtship by the town drunk. Outrage, sorrow and envy are all predictably on the menu. There is a good deal of clunky exposition, apparently to make up for the lack of a first act which might have shown us who these people were without their having to tell us.
The rest of the cast includes Devon Abner, Andrea Lynn Green, Jeremy Bobb, Alexander Cendese, Mary Bacon and Jenny Dare Paulin. Pam MacKinnon directs.
Primary Stages, 59E59th Street, New York. Through Sept.15. Tickets $70. Information:
212-279-4200 or www.primarystages.org