Soft-spoken playwright Horton Foote is to Texas what William Faulkner was to Mississippi: a faithful chronicler of the values and mores of a cultural subset of the American people. A major feature of both their bodies of work is their protagonists’ reaction to specific circumstances, disappointments, and defeat. “How a man reacts to the negative forces of life is how he should be measured,” Foote said. In two lengthy one-acts at the Open Fist Theatre, Foote introduces a young girl who is rebelling against the changes that will come when her widowed father marries a woman she sees as a threat, and, In the second offering, a distraught restaurant worker is finally forced to abandon his fanciful ambition to become an astronaut. In A Young Lady of Property, set in 1924, Wilma (Juliette Goglin) and
her friend Arabella (Kiley Eberhardt) are plotting their escape to Hollywood to become movie stars. Famous movie stars. And Wilma, whose deceased mother had willed her the family homestead, is planning to rent it out in order to acquire the money for her Hollywood adventure. Her father, however, is making plans to sell it. The cast is uniformly okay, but whether it is the acoustics in the theater or tentative direction by Scott Paulin, the sound works against the production.
Goglin, in a shrill little-girl voice, races through her lines so quickly as to be unintelligible. Then later, in a quieter moment, she and several of the cast members soften their delivery to such an extent as, again, to be unintelligible. Further, despite the action of the crew dashing in and out to reset the scenes, several of the scenes end in dialogue so lame that to follow them with a blackout and a scene change only emphasizes how ineffectual they are. In the second one-act, The Land of the Astronauts, it is 1983 and Phil (Aaron McPherson) has rebelled against a tedious and unfulfilling job which he had been lured to because of its proximity to Houston’s Space Center. As it turns out, the Space Center is something like 60 miles away and unavailable to him. So he has run away, like a little kid who wants to join the circus, while his frantic wife searches for him. There are 20 actors in the presentation, and it is lively, for the most part, albeit entirely predictable. Because you have figured out that Phil has run off to Houston, it is mystifying that that action has not occurred to his wife Lorena (a finely tuned Ina Shumaker). And so the “search” becomes overly long and just a tad tiresome—and even boring at times. Except when young Talyan Wright, who plays Phil and Lorena’s precocious daughter, is delivering her lines or practicing her tap dance routine. She is an amazing performer with none of the cloying “cuteness” that young actors often exhibit. Perhaps I am being overly harsh in my review of these two long one-acts, but I generally love the plays of Horton Foote and so I was disappointed that these were not, in my view, among his best works. This, despite the rave reviews they received from critics and word-of-mouth. In fact, the night I saw these plays was their second opening night; they had been brought back for a second run after a brief holiday hiatus. The two one-acts, collectively called Foote Notes, will continue at The Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., in Hollywood Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 through February 9th. For tickets, visit the website at www.openfist.org. Photo: The cast of The Land of the Astronauts applauds as Talyan Wright practices her dance steps.