ORPHANS’ HOME CYCLE
By Roz Friedman
Rapture. That is what I was feeling when watching Part Two of the Orphans’ Home Cycle. While Part One, The Story of a Childhood, is interesting, informative, and meaty, it deals with a series of depressing events, beginning with: the death of Paul Horace Robedaux, a young lawyer; the total rejection of his son, 12 year old Horace, by his own mother; Horace being forced to witness the death of a crazy man, who runs a farm where he works for 6 months with abused convicts; and at the age of 20-- his desperate yearning for an education.
The three components of Part Two, The Story of a Marriage, directed with sensitivity, fit together like a seamless yet passionate puzzle. It is surcease for the soul. Act 1, The Widow Claire, takes place in Harrison, Texas in 1912. Horace, now 22, a part Bill Heck invests with laid-back Gary Cooper kind of charm, shares a cramped space in a boarding house with 4 guys, who spend their time gambling and drinking. He is working in a store, but will be leaving in 3 days for Houston for a 4 month course in business school with money lent to him by his boss.
Complicating his plan is a flirtation he is having with Claire, a widow played by Virginia Kull; beautiful and sassy in this role, she is amazingly different in the Act III as Bessie Stillman, a neighbor, who is kind but slow. Claire, with two children to support, is trying to decide who of her suitors she should marry. One is the crude Val (Lucas Caleb Rooney), whom the kids hate; another is an older more prosperous man, Ned, whom we don’t meet. She really loves Horace, but when he is forthright in telling her he is no position to consider marriage, she first agrees to wait for him, and then reverses that decision. Georgi James as Molly and Dylan Riley Snyder as Buddy are absolutely precious as Claire’s precocious children.
Act II entitled Courtship is a truthful exploration of family love and life. It is set in the Vaughn House in Harrison in 1915. The love affair between Horace and Elizabeth Vaughn is heightened by an exquisitely nuanced portrayal by Maggie Lacey. If you saw Dividing the Estate, she was the perky know-it-all teacher. Here, she is the daughter, who defies her prosperous, over-bearing, over-protective father, and her acerbic mother, played so believably by James DeMarse and Hallie Foote, one imagines they truly existed. The delicate dance which introduces this section is reflected in the desire of Elizabeth and her sister, Laura (Jenny Dare Paulin) to be permitted to dance; the relationship between the girls and their parents; and the communication between Elizabeth and Horace, who has completed his education, as they confess their undying love for each other.
Although Mr. Vaughn does not approve of Horace and forbids his daughter to see him in Act III, Valentine’s Day, 1917, Elizabeth and Horace elope. Spurned by her parents, ignored by his family, they have set up their life together in a boarding house, filled with wonderful, but troubled people, all of whom gravitate toward Horace for advice and strength. Elizabeth is expecting a baby; her parents happily reconcile with them and a deal is struck to build them a house on the neighboring property.
The theme of alcoholism and the destruction it causes runs through every vein of The Orphans’ Home Cycle which I implore you to see. It will play in all its many schedules through Oct 24. It then moves to NY and opens at The Signature Theatre on Nov 5 and runs through March 28.
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1 FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO STATION