Signature Theatre Company
Would that Horton Foote “could have lived to attend the New York opening of the first part of The Orphans’ Home Cycle,” said Terry Teachout in The Wall Street Journal. Foote died in March at the age of 92. But before he did, he completed the process of carving nine short plays from the saga of full-length works he’d written over the previous few decades. Set in the early 1900s, the Home Cycle depicts the life of Horace Robedaux, a fictionalized version of the playwright’s father, who’s been “cast adrift” from his family and left to fend for himself in southeast Texas. Michael Wilson’s production supremely evokes Foote’s “Chekhov-like poetry of place and atmosphere,” and seems destined to go down as “the kind of show you tell your grandchildren you saw.”
This three-part opening to the Cycle solidifies Foote’s reputation as “one of the supreme storytellers of the 20th century,” said Michael Kuchwara in the Associated Press. The first one-act, Roots in a Parched Ground, follows a 12-year-old Horace, played brilliantly by the young actor Dylan Riley Snyder. Haunted by the death of his alcoholic father, he’s also been abandoned by his mother and sister, who decamped to Houston with a stepfather who despises Horace. In Convicts, Henry Hodges plays Horace at 14, wandering the Texas plains and eventually finding work as an “indentured servant on a plantation where convicts are kept in slave labor.” In the final piece, Lily Dale, Bill Heck plays Horace at 20, trekking to Houston to search for memories of a father whom the rest of his family would just as soon forget.
The plays are “deceptively small-scaled and naturalistic,” but together they form an epic, said Erik Haagensen in Back Stage. Foote is unequalled at depicting “the lives of modest people against the sweeping forces of social change and the vagaries of time,” and Wilson has assembled a 22-member cast that’s “without a weak link.” Jointly playing Horace, Snyder, Hodges, and Heck create a unified and “resonant portrait of a good-natured boy bewildered by life but unwilling to be defeated by it.” The other six condensed plays of the Home Cycle will be performed in coming months. If they live up to the standard of the first three, it will mean that we’re clearly witnessing “nothing less than an American masterwork.”