Horton Foote is, in my humble opinion, one of the great playwrights in theater, standing right alongside Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Edward Albee, and perhaps William Inge.
Some have called Foote the American Chekhov. After all, in The Roads to Home, three female characters who are all friends bear a certain resemblance to the sisters who inhabit the Chekhov play called The Three Sisters. The first act of The Roads to Home opens in the kitchen of the house in Houston, Texas where Mabel, played by Hallie Foote, the playwright’s daughter, rules the roost over her husband Jack, played by Devon Abner. When Jack is not at work, he is home in his armchair snoozing and snoring while Mabel is in a state of boredom and irritation, prattling on in a frenetic manner. Mabel’s friends who show up for her coffee-klatch gossip session/kitchen get-together are Vonnie, enacted by Harriet Harris, and Annie, played by Rebecca Brooksher.
Vonnie, in a state of panic upon discovering that her husband is having an affair, has several uncontrollable crying jags. Annie, who shows up later, is suffering from a nervous mental condition that ultimately leads her into the local asylum in Austin. All three of the women’s marriages are on the rocks, with Mabel leading the call. She warns her husband that if she ever catches him with another woman, she will plunge her kitchen knife into his heart. Though all of this may sound bleak, the genius and subtle writing in The Roads to Home, as well as the brilliant ensemble performances of the actors and detailed direction of Michael Wilson, bring it all home; the 1924 period set by Jeff Cowie tops it off. The male actors—Devon Abner, Dan Bittner, and Matt Sullivan—who play the husbands, double as crazy inmates at the mental institution, all partaking in the festivities at a dance party in the last act.
I first met Horton Foote at HB Studio on Bank Street, where I saw his play 1918. At that time, I introduced him to Joe Franklin who interviewed him on his TV show. I connected with him again at a Christmas party at 27 Washington Square North where I chatted with Uta Hagen about Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It was then that Horton first introduced me to his talented and devoted daughter, Hallie. Horton died in Hartford, Connecticut in 2009 but, just prior to his death, he had for one full year conducted the sessions of the Playwrights/Director’s Unit at the Actor’s Studio (PDA). During that time, when I was a member of the PDA, I felt more than lucky to be with him as did the other members; we were in the presence of and learning from a great master.
To list the many awards given to Foote or to discuss his 50 plays would take volumes. They include the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for The Young Man From Atlanta as well as Academy Awards for his 1961 screen adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird and his original screenplay in 1983 for Tender Mercies. In 2000, he received a National Medal of Arts Award from President Bill Clinton.
Certainly then The Roads to Home, produced by Primary Stages by special arrangement with the Cherry Lane Theatre, is a must see for serious theatergoers.