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Writing for Us

A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Harrison, Texas

I guess he wanted to be saved from his loneliness. I wanted to be saved from mine.— Helen in The Midnight Caller
Magic is too fanciful a word for the spell Horton Foote casts when he's writing about his hometown in Texas. But there's spellbinding going on here, nonetheless, from the moment this triptych opens. It's directed with impeccable timing by Scott Paulin and displays an absorption in place that's very rare.

In The Midnight Caller, we're in a boarding house in the 1940s where two lonely girls, Cutie (Lea Endres) and Alma Jean (Briana Mandel) are unsettled by the arrival of a male boarder, Mr. Johnston (John Pirruccello) and a beautiful girl, Helen (Elizabeth Carlson), who has a reputation. The deftness of Foote's writing is in the world he creates which includes other characters, particularly Miss Rowena (Wendy Phillips), a retired schoolteacher, and Mrs. Crawford (Laura Richardson), who runs the boarding house. One of Miss Rowena's students in Music Appreciation was Harvey Weems (Alan Savanapridi), who is heartsick over the loss of Helen and turns up drunk to serenade her every night. Her mother and his mother kept them apart. Carlson has a monologue delivered with such naturalness and unimpeachable timing that one forgets it's a monologue. This one-act is flawlessly balanced, thanks to Foote's ear for the lives of all the characters, not just for a romantic triangle. Philipps, as Miss Rowena, provides the warm reality that gives the play its heart. The diction and projection of this seasoned actress stand in contrast to the younger actresses, both of whom find the core of their characters but need to get it out there.

The second play, Blind Date, is slighter but hilarious. Set in the 1930s, it gives Laura Richardson, a world-weary landlady in the last play, a chance to show her versatility as a perennial butterfly who is determined to sustain her career as a campus beauty queen. She's trying to fix up her reluctant niece Sarah Nancy (Sarah Schaub). Schaub holds the stage from the moment of her entrance, playing a sublimated fury in a dress and hairdo created by Aunt Dolores. The only flaw in this delectable ointment is Sarah Nancy's legs which are sprawled apart like a girl in blue jeans several generations later. It's jarringly out of period and also something fussy Aunt Dolores would never have allowed. John Bozeman brings the small part of Aunt Dolores's husband Robert to wry and weary life. Eddie Karr gives a conventional interpretation to Felix, Sarah Nancy's gentleman caller.

The One Armed Man, is a powerful tragedy from the 1920s, slicing open life as it was then for a boy crippled in a mill accident, Ned McHenry (Alan Savanapridi) confronts his self-satisfied employer, C. W. Rowe, (John Blevins) who enumerates all the membership fees he pays to the Kiwanis, etc., then offers $5 a week to the maimed.boy. Savanapridi who plays the gentle drunken songster in The Midnight Caller gives a wracking performance as the crippled Ned Blevins plays his boss with unaffected fatuousness, ably assisted by Michael McGee as his bookkeeper Pinky. The two open the play with a scene depicting the economic life of the period that paints a picture of the roots of the tragedy to come.

The antiques furnishing Jeff Whitman's set and the wardrobe, crediting Rosemary Schaub as consultant, authentically reflect this company's professionalism. The 92-year-old Foote did a Q&A with director Paulin after the Sunday matinee. He told an aspiring playwright to write about what she knows, and said he loved the one-act play form and that his monologues were as carefully and extemporaneously composed as any of his plays. He also answered questions about what led to some of his films and how his early years as an actor led to writing. We're fortunate that it did. In focusing in on his life and memories of Harrison, Texas, Foote has illuminated the world.

Editor's Note: For more about Horton Foote and links to plays by him we've reviewed, see our Horton Foote Backgrounder.

Playwright: Horton Foote
Director: Scott Paulin
Cast: John Blevins (C.W.Rowe), John Bozeman (Robert), Elizabeth Carlson (Helen Crews), Lea Endres (Cutie Spencer), Eddie Karr (Felix), Briana Mandel (Alma Jean), Michael McGee (Pinky), Wendy Philipps (Miss Rowena Douglas), John Pirruccello (Mr. Ralph Johnston), Laura Richardson (Mrs. Crawford/Dolores), Alan Savanapridi (Harvey Weems/Ned McHendry), Sarah Schaub (Sarah Nancy)
Set Design: Jeff Whitman
Lighting Design: Derrick McDaniel
Wardrobe Consultant: Rosemary Schaub
Running Time: Two and a half hours, one intermission
Running Dates: January 12-February 17, 2008
Where: Second Story Theatre, 130 S. La Brea, Los Angeles, Reservations: (800) 595-4849
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on January 13.


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