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A CurtainUpLos Angeles Review
The Habitation of Dragons

By Laura Hitchcock
And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be a habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.
--- Isaiah 34:13
The structure of Horton Foote's habitation initially resembles the short scenes and multiple characters of a screenplay, which it was on television in 1992, after its initial stage presentation. So many characters (16 in all) people the first act of his drama, set in small Harrison, Texas, in 1935-36, that at first one wonders why some of them are there. Presented by the Actors Co-Op, it's a far cry from the three sisters whose monologues comprise Foote's The Carpetbagger's Children, seen recently at West Coast Ensemble.

This family are all members of the extended Tolliver clan whose conflicts are now focused in two lawyer brothers, Leonard and young George. Unable to get along as partners, George now plans to set up his own practice and Leonard takes on his brother-in-law, bright dapper young Billy as partner. The brothers also haggle over their ranch, farmed by Wally Smith, a cowhand whose athletic feats make him a hero to Leonard's little boys, Horace and Leonard Junior, and, not incidentally at all, to Leonard's fashionable wife Margaret.

It's easy to see where this is going but it's not Footian to take the straight and narrow anywhere. He depicts the roots that resulted in these characters' reactions by portraying family members of the previous generation.

There's Uncle Virgil, who never answered his brother's desperate pleas for money, resulting in that brother's suicide and the consequent impoverishment of Leonard, George and their mother Lenora. Uncle Virgil, now bankrupt, begs a home from them, but, as his mind deteriorates, his guilt increases for not responding to his brother. The relationship between Virgil and his brother is reflected in the lives of Leonard and George. Leonard becomes a workoholic, who doesn't hesitate to take financial advantage of his own brother. George at first seems feckless, a loser, who literally loses the District Attorney race to Billy but, left to himself, comes into his own professionally.

There's also Cousin Helen, endearingly portrayed by Cynthia Sanders, who boards with the Tollivers and is visited daily by her brother Mr. Charlie. Lester Whyte, who murdered a man who was having an affair with his wife, speechlessly wanders the town passing frequently in front of the Tolliver home like a mute prophetic metaphor.

Another shadow relationship is that of Margaret and Billy who come with their own set of demons. Their father abandoned them for his young secretary and died alone. When Margaret repeats the pattern, Billy wreaks the vengence of a lifetime and sets the stage for a second act where all these background strands are wrapped into one tragic cluster of tragedy, guilt and forgiveness.

Foote doesn't deal with character development here in a conventional way. There's nothing to bridge the gap between the sulky unsuccessful young George and the suddenly elegantly dressed young lawyer. The characters talk a lot but they don't display their inner lives. What Foote does, and nobody does it better, is weave a detailed pattern of the community and its histories to reveal his people through their actions and reactions

Cameron Watson, an old Foote hand, directs with an emphasis on naturalism, though without losing sight of the compressed passions of small town life. He also has welded the large cast into an integrated ensemble and effected skilled transitions between scenes, augmented by Brian Piatek's tawny southwest lighting design. Terri A. Lewis has created a beautiful 1930s wardrobe for Margaret, expressing her love of color and gaiety, and some elegant suits for the rising young lawyers.

Steve Cubine's set evocatively creates the porches and living room of the Tolliver home where, despite their sorrows and hostilities, there's always room at the table and space for those who need it. That ambiance sustains this Foote play as the most powerful theme of all.


Playwright: Horton Foote
Director: Cameron Watson
Cast: John Allsopp (George Tolliver), R.C.Ormond (Lonny), Cynthia Sanders (Miss Helen), Durrell Nelson (Leonard Tolliver), Jim Custer (Mr. Charlie), Bonnie Bailey-Reed (Lenora Tolliver), Amy Landers (Margaret Tolliver), Cody Fleetwood (Leonard Tolliver, Jr.), Cameron Covell (Horace Tolliver), Richard Lee Warren (Wally Smith), Robbie Winston (Billy Dalton), Don Robb (Virgil Tolliver), Scott Ward (Lester Whyte), Michelle Allsopp (Bernice Dayton), Joe Russell (Sheriff), Susan Carol Davis (Evelyn Sparks).
Set Design: Steve Cubine
Lighting Design: Brian Piatek
Costume Design: Terri A. Lewis
Sound Design: Bryce Ryness
Hair Design: Diane Martinous
Original Music: John Swihart
Running Time: Two and a half hours, one intermission
Running Dates: April 8-May 29, 2005
Where: Actors Co-Op, The Crossley Theatres, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood, Phone: (323) 462-8460
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on April 30. /td>

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