Off-Broadway Review: “The Roads to Home” at Primary Stages
Chief New York Theatre Critic
If the idiom “home is where the heart is” has any veracity, then the characters in Horton Foote’s 1982 “The Roads to Home” are as far from home as anyone might be. Geographically, the main characters – the three women in the first two short plays of the somewhat interconnected trilogy – are refugees from their original homes and have developed coping strategies in Houston, Texas that meet with a mixed degree of success. Next-door neighbors Mabel Votaugh (Hallie Foote) and Vonnie Hayhurst (Harriet Harris) depend heavily on each other’s company to fend off loneliness and the less than supportive nature of their marriages to Jack (played with a flatlined indifference by Devon Abner) and Eddie (played with a devilish untrustworthiness by Matt Sullivan). Mr. Votaugh falls asleep shortly after dinner each night and Mr. Hayhurst has begun working double shifts at the railroad. And Annie Gayle Long (Rebecca Brooksher) who has re-emerged and “filled in” for Vonnie while she visited her Monroe, Louisiana home finds a “good time” riding on the city’s streetcar system.
The first two short plays “A Nightingale” and “The Dearest of Friends” focus on the lives of these three women and their relationships to their pasts and to their husbands. Mabel and Vonnie ramble on about the residents of Harrison, Texas, religion, their disreputable neighbors and friends past and present – all the time exhibiting a veneer of civility, control, and calm. Annie, though a bit unhinged, attempts to hold the center with a modicum of civility. The underbelly of their lives, however, is encrusted with a variety of threats to their apparent sense and sensibility. And their xenophobia and racism bristle close to the surface of their apparent piety. It is important to remember that Horton Foote wrote this trilogy in 1982 when outwardly all seemed relatively right with the world but fomenting beneath the prosperity was a Pandora’s Box of disintegrative matrixes.
Under Michael Wilson’s discerning direction, Hallie Foote and Harriet Harris are magnificent playing off one another’s enormous talents. Both deliver portrayals of complex women with complicated conflicts and they use their formidable craft to imbue these characters with both authenticity and honesty. Their dialogue in the first play brims with impeccable comedic timing. Their performances in the second play bring depth and richness to Mr. Foote’s rhetorical treasure of pathos and ethos. Rebecca Brooksher captures the breadth of Annie’s emotional spectrum. Devon Abner, Dan Bittner (Annie’s husband Mr. Long), and Matt Sullivan successfully portray husbands unaware of the houses of cards tumbling around them and- in the case of Mr. Long – the sinister disaffection that appears to be at the core of Annie’s dysfunction.
The third short play (Act Two) is disappointing after the high energy and delicious plots driven by the characters and conflicts in the first two short plays. Only Annie appears bereft of children (with her mother) and husband (apparently divorced and remarried) and still institutionalized four years after her initial admission to the asylum in Austin. The male actors portray three delusional patients who interact with Annie during the “Spring Dance.” And although their lack of coping skills are powerful tropes for the delusional nature of the nation at large, that does not bring enough energy and interest to bring this third play up to the level of success of the first two. Hallie Foote and Harriet Harris and their pair of perplexing characters are sorely missed and the actors’ craft completely wasted sitting backstage waiting for the curtain call.
Jeff Cowie’s set, David C. Woolard’s costumes, and David Lander’s lighting are exquisite as is Paul Huntley’s wig design. “The Roads to Home” challenges the conventional wisdom surrounding the concept of home and raises enduring questions about the roads that lead us there.
THE ROADS TO HOME
The cast of “The Roads to Home” includes Devon Abner, Dan Bittner, Hallie Foote, Rebecca Brooksher, Harriet Harris, and Matt Sullivan.
“The Roads to Home” features scenic design by Jeff Cowie, costume design by David C. Woolard, lighting design by David Lander, original music and sound design by John Gromada, and casting by Stephanie Klapper Casting. Production Photos by James Leynse.
“The Roads to Home” runs at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through Sunday November 27th on the following schedule: Wednesday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Single tickets for “The Roads to Home” are priced at $70.00 and available at http://www.PrimaryStages.org or by calling OvationTix at 212-352-3101. Running time is 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
Photo: Harriet Harris, Rebecca Brooksher, and Hallie Foote in "Roads to Home." Credit: James Leynse.