Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Orphans' Home Cycle: Part One--The Story of a Childhood

The late Horton Foote's nine-play epic, the Orphans' Home Cycle (presented as three one-acts per evening or all nine one-acts in a marathon), depicts the coming of age of Horace Robedaux, based on Foote's father. Part One--The Story of a Childhood takes Robedaux from age 12 in 1902 to his early 20s. As the cycle begins, Robedaux's parents are separated and his father is dying. When his father dies, his mother remarries, and it is soon clear that he is not welcome in the new family. Friends of his father and some relatives try to help Robedaux, but their large promises diminish in the keeping or vanish all together, and he has to fend for himself, financially and emotionally. The plays of the Orphans' Home Cycle have varied histories; some were stand-alone plays, some were TV plays, and some are new. Foote trimmed the full-length works to one acts. When a show runs nine hours, the question has to be asked: Does it justify the length? It feels weird to second-guess the much-beloved, much-respected Foote, and who knows what he might have done had he lived, but in Part One, more trimming would have been welcome. Characters come and go who add little to the evening (my guess is that they are based on real people in Foote's father's life), and some scenes overstay their welcome, in particular the repetitive drunken ramblings of one of Robedaux's employers. Bill Heck as the grown Robedaux is excellent, as are Annalee Jefferies and Jenny Dare Paulin in various roles, but many in the ensemble are disappointing. I am nevertheless optimistic about Parts Two and Three since they will provide opportunities for the exposition and character development from Part One to pay off.

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