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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
The "Him" of the title is the father of the steeped in misery family drama. He never appears on stage, except via monologues delivered by the middle-aged children to whom he's always been a taciturn stranger. Note the past tense. "Him" is on his deathbeadI when the play opens, and what drives Foote's plot is the question of whether the family store attached to their run down house will also die. The store's more than likely death also poses the question of how this unknowable and unloving patriarch's middle-aged children will carry on without their sole, if unprofitable, occupational anchor.
Pauline, aged 54, never recovered her sense of self worth and satisfaction after giving birth to an illegitimate baby at just thirteen. Her depressed attitude in the opening scene brings to mind Masha's famous "I'm in mourning for my life" in Chekhov's The Seagull..
Henry 43 (a most worthy co-star for Foote as played by Tim Hopper) is a gay man hopelessly in love with a married friend. Though he sees that man, a successful electrician, as frustrated and unhappy his more pragmatic sister can't see any cause for depression by anyone with a good job and a solid standing in the community. All she sees is a man who's part of the town's population that's thriving as a result of new housing developments. The way she puts it: "Teddy Faber gets up in the morning and says I need to be here to do X and then I need to go there to do Y. And when Iím all done, Iíll get a big fat check for my efforts. We never did that, Henry. Never found out what we were good at, developed skills, a way to make money. And now look where we are."
As Daisy's Pauline is in mourning for her life, Hallie Foote, at least in her play, seems to be in mourning for all the Tremonts in this country where people like Pauline and her brother can fall between the cracks. Another casualty of the encroachment on small enterprises by big chains is Pauline and Henry's brother Farley (Adam Le Fevre) who's 51 but has the IQ of an 11-year-old,
When we first meet Pauline and Henry they seem so close that it takes a few minutes before you realize that they're siblings rather than a married couple. Given their compatibility and dialogue snippets that reveal that they, as well as the as yet unseen Farley, are all taking care of the sick and apparently dying father, you might say this is a closely knit family. Chained together is more like it, since the family's togetherness is the result of their inability to lead independent lives.
The only thing that can turn these drab lives around is money. Money to modernize the store and make it a bit more competitive. Money to fix up the house to make it more livable. Without giving too much away, this unlikely possibility does come about. No, neither Pauline or Henry come up with a winning lottery ticket. Instead, there is a call from a lawyer explaining that their destitute father left a will. Turns out dad owned a valuable piece of land near a lake, a natural for an expensive home development.
It's a sure bet that this sudden possibility of becoming rich and respected citizens has a dramatic effect on these lives. Throw in a box of journals that Henry discovers when cleaning out his father's belongings that reveal not only how he got hold of that land but the innermost thoughts of a man who probably should never have married. In another plot twist Farley not only has his own agenda for the future of the store but connects with Louise (Adina Verson), a girl who is, like him, a child in an adult body.
As I said at the beginning of this review this is a dark play. Good fortune feeds Pauline's fervent belief that greed is good. The Farley-Louise romance is not exactly the stuff of a blind to all obstacles happy ending. As for the journals, they give Henry some second thoughts about his remote father and his feelings about the land he owned. But this is Pauline's party. She's the Walmart in this family. Viewed within a larger context, this American family can easily and sadly be seen as a symbol of the powerful and ruthless sweeping away whoever and whatever stands in the way of their immediate ambitions.
Daisy Foote has, as she did in her previous plays, created some vivid characters. I have no complaints about the actors, especially Foote and Hopper, or director Evan Yionoulis, who also directrd the excellent Bhutan., However, the frequent monologues from the father's journals come off as a too pretentious, somehow too precious device that's more distracting than engaging. The monologues might have been less off-putting if not suddenly spoken by Pauline and Henry, but instead by another actor as a ghostly presence. Pauline's "visions" of her long dead baby don't quite fit her hard-headed pragmatism and are rather too patly worked into the play's ending.
If you're looking for an upbeat, flawless work, this less than cheery story with its structural problems, isn't it. That said , it IS cheering to know that Horton Foote has left not only a treasure trove of memorable plays, but a pair of talented and devoted daughters to carry on his rich story telling legacy.
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