The Story of a Family/Part Three -- Act II: “Cousins” Act III: “The Death of Papa”


Horton Foote’s precious saga, the “Orphans’ Home Cycle,” precisely produced by Hartford Stage is comprised of 9 plays presented in three parts. It finished its run in Connecticut on October 24 and opens November 5 at the Signature Theatre Off Broadway in New York City for a long run. You have heard my reviews here on WMNR of Part One: “The Story of a Childhood” and Part Two: “The Story of a Marriage” and Part Three: The Story of A Family, “Act I, 1918” This is the review of

Part Three: Acts II and III: “Cousins” and “The Death of Papa,” which completes the cycle.

In Act II, “Cousins,” it is now 1925; Bill Heck’s Horace owns a haberdashery in his hometown of Harrison, but is struggling in his business, as are others who rely on the dwindling cotton market. One of his many cousins, Gordon, played well by Justin Fuller, is helping to manage the store; alcohol rears its ugly head, once again, when another cousin, Lewis, the unique Lucas Caleb Rooney, comes in drunk as a skunk.   Horace seems to take this all with a grain if salt and understanding.  When his mother, Corella, takes ill and is in the hospital with an unnamed condition that needs immediate surgery, he and his wife, Elizabeth, whose love for him is ever constant, travel to Houston. 

There, we see Lily Dale, whom we originally met in Part One, Act III.  Annalee Jeffries as Corella, who apologizes to Horace for her terrible treatment of him, and Jenny Dare Paulin as Lily Dale, his sister, still spoiled, selfish and superficial, now married to Will with children, reprise their roles beautifully. If there is one wrong note sounded in this section, it is using Hallie Foote as Cousin Lola. We have identified with her in the significant role of Elizabeth’s mother, and it is disconcerting to adjust to seeing her in this role as a gossipy, well-meaning relative.  Corella recovers and we are on to Part Three, Act III.  Act III: “The Death of Papa” takes place in Harrison in 1928. This is a very meaty finale.  Elizabeth’s father, Mr. Vaughn, who has played such a pivotal role in the history of the town and the family, dies suddenly. James De Marse was a powerful presence as this successful banker, who leaves a great deal of money to his wife. She, thinking she can turn her wayward son, Brother Vaughn, around, encourages him to take over the various businesses, even her favorite: a large working farm. Elizabeth and Horace know this is a mistake, but their pleas go for naught. In a short time, Brother has lost a great deal of the money gambling, and confesses that the farm is in awful shape. He flees with the intention of joining the Merchant Marine, but ends up stabbing a man and being thrown in jail. His mother stands by him and when in a trial he is finally acquitted, she decides to go off with him to try and start a new life.           

Home is where the heart is. Michael Wilson’s direction, Jeff Cowie and David Barber’s incredibly creative Scenic Designs lit by Rui Rita, John Gromada’s Music & Sound, and a large dedicated cast costumed by David C. Wollard, combine to bring Horton Foote’s slice of America to the end of a remarkable journey. It is Horace Robedaux’s unforgettable journey to the self.

This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS RADIO      

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