Friday, February 5, 2016

NY Review: HARRISON, TX : Three Plays by Horton Foote

NY Review: HARRISON, TX : Three Plays by Horton Foote



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

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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