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Horton Foote: The playwright's 'Odyssey' for modern times

Epic nine-hour 'The Orphan's Home Cycle,' opening in New York, explores how people face adversity and the elusive search for home.

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‘The Story of a Family,’ Part 3 of the ‘Cycle,’ featured Bill Heck as Horace and Maggie Lacey as his wife, Elizabeth.

Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson/Hartford Stage Company

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As a boy in the 1920s, Horton Foote used to eavesdrop on the lives of the adults in his small Texas town. The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright later drew on these memories to write numerous plays, including nine based closely on his own family's past.

While the plays can seem deceptively modest, they do no less than reveal "the essential characteristics of the American identity," says Michael Wilson, the artistic director of the Hartford (Conn.) Stage Company.

Mr. Wilson, a longtime collaborator with Mr. Foote, had long wanted to produce all nine plays, several of which had never reached the stage. In late 2007 he asked Foote if he could condense them into three, three-hour plays that could be seen by theatergoers in a single day.

At the time of his death last March, Foote had essentially completed his task. "The Orphan's Home Cycle" was born.

In October, Hartford Stage presented a world première of "Cycle," including two marathon Saturdays in which ardent fans could see all nine hours – broken up by lunch and dinner breaks – in one day.

The unique play cycle, which closed in Hartford Oct. 24, reopens in New York City Nov. 5 at the Signature Theatre Company and runs until at least March 28, 2010. Theatergoers will be able to see any of the three parts – subtitled "The Story of a Childhood," "The Story of a Marriage," and "The Story of a Family" – individually or, on three occasions, in all-day marathons.

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