Part Three - The Story of A Family, Act I
By Roz Friedman
DEATH HANGS HEAVY.
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 stay. You have heard my reviews here on WMNR of “Part One, The Story of a Childhood” and “Part Two, the Story of a Marriage.” This is the review of the last section, “The Story of a Family, Act I.”
In Act 1, entitled “1918,” death hangs heavy. It begins effectively with rain pouring down, the cast dressed in black, umbrellas in hand, parading silently in a cemetery. Two themes run deep here. The flu has hit the small town of Harrison, Texas very hard, and many are sick and dying. WWI is in full mode, and there is talk of joining it in the Robedeaux/Vaughn family. Horace, again acted so well here by Bill Heck, has, in a moment he would immediately regret, avowed that he was thinking of joining the fight. That statement and his donation of his savings of $4000 to War Bonds have impressed his successful and blustery father-in-law, Mr. Vaughn, played by James DeMarse.
On the other hand, Brother Vaughn, Horace’s brother-in-law, his wife Elizabeth’s insufferable brother, a part Bryce Pinkham infuses with good nervous angst, has gotten into terrible trouble and is thinking of enlisting in the Army. An alcoholic, a problem that runs through the entire piece, and a gambler, he has lost his money and gotten a girl pregnant. Acted once more with sweet nuance by Maggie Lacey, Elizabeth, against her best principles, gives him her little savings to save him.
In a short time, the flu attacks the family. Mr. Vaughn falls ill and Horace collapses, leaving Elizabeth to take care of him and their infant, Jennie, who dies while Horace is delirious. His recognition of this tragedy, which brings him and us to tears, is the saddest moment in the play. It is interesting that Mrs. Vaughn, Elizabeth’s mother, is so very matter-of- fact about her first grandchild’s death. She had lost a baby, herself, and Elizabeth keeps asking her how she got over it, how she has dealt with it. Between disease, war, and lack of scientific knowledge, there was a great deal of loss experienced in the early 1900’s. As Mrs. Vaughn, Hallie Foote with her crisp no-nonsense delivery exemplifies the pioneer American spirit that permeated the ethos in those times. Act I ends on a happier note: Elizabeth is expecting another child; World War I ends.
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1 FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO