Understanding The World of Horton Foote Part 1: Performance History

Today we kick off a 3-part series written by Chris Baker, the dramaturg for the Primary Stages production of The Roads to Home by Horton Foote. The dramaturg is responsible, in part, for researching the world of the play and providing background and historical context for the creative team. We’ve asked Chris Baker to share some of his fascinating research  here on our blog. We’ll be back with parts 2 and 3 of this series in the coming weeks. Enjoy! 

The Roads to Home

horton-foote-by-keith-carter

Horton Foote, by Keith Carter

Premiering in 1982, Horton Foote’s The Roads to Home is made up of three interconnecting parts—A Nightingale, The Dearest of Friends, and A Spring Dance—set in the 1920s.  The first two take place in Houston, the third in Austin.  Another location—Harrison, Texas—is present in the play through the stories, recollections, and longings of the characters.

The Premiere of The Roads to Home

The Roads to Home premiered in March 1982 at Manhattan’s Punch Line Theatre in New York. Directed by Calvin Skaggs, the cast included Hallie Foote as Annie Gayle. Describing the production as “almost a Southern Gothic comedy,” The New York Times’ John Corry observed that “people are askew – not mightily, but almost parenthetically, tilting, so to speak, coming together at odd angles that aren’t quite the proper angles.”

The 1992 revival

The play was revived ten years later at the Lamb’s Theatre under Horton Foote’s direction featuring Jean Stapleton and Hallie Foote, once again, as Annie Gayle. The production led Frank Rich of the New York Times to write: “Any list of America’s living literary wonders must include Horton Foote… just when the audience is set to relax into an elegiac reverie that might resemble nostalgia, the playwright finds a way to make his characters’ inner turmoil so ferociously vivid it leaps beyond their specific time and place to become our own.”  He singled out Hallie Foote’s performance as “transporting.”

The revival sparked a kind of renaissance for the playwright, particularly in New York.  Productions at Primary Stages and Signature Theatre would follow, and one of those plays, The Young Man from Atlanta, would earn Foote a Pulitzer Prize.  That play, along with Primary Stages’ production of Dividing the Estate, would bring Foote back to Broadway after a 40-year hiatus.  Michael Wilson, director of the current production, saw that 1992 revival.  Five years later, Wilson would direct The Death of Papa, one of Foote’s The Orphans’ Home Cycle plays, at Playmakers Repertory Theater in North Carolina.  It would mark the beginning of an important collaboration between Wilson and Foote.

Foote on The Roads to Home 

In Blessed Assurance: The Life and Art of Horton Foote , Marion Castleberry describes the women of the play as “refugees of small towns” who are trying to get home.  “They don’t do that consciously,” said Foote, “but they constantly find ways to refer to or think about the places they came from. They spend their time trying to reconstruct their past lives. It’s a variation on a theme.”

 

The Primary Stages production of The Roads to Home runs through November 6, 2016 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Visit the Primary Stages website for tickets and more info.

 

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