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By Frank Scheck / February 16, 1995



*The Young Man From Atlanta (Signature Theatre Company): A world premiere of a new play by Horton Foote, set in the 1950s, and starring Carlin Glynn and Ralph Waite. They play the bereaved parents of a son who has drowned; the title character, who remains offstage, is the son's roommate, who has come to them looking for money. Much of the play is concerned with the father's in creasing financial desperation after he is fired from his job of 40 years, and the mother's dependence on the young man, who may or may not have been her son's lover. The play is talky and often stodgy, but the characters' dilemma is ultimately affecting, and the piece is beautifully acted.

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*Missing Persons (Atlantic Theater Company): A substantially revised and expanded version of a 1981 one-act by Craig Lucas, the play is a surreal comedy about a dysfunctional family trying to deal with the people in their lives, past and present. (Dead or departed characters show up as fantasy figures, popping out of the refrigerator or a trash bin). Despite excellent performances (Mary Beth Peil, Todd Weeks, John Cameron Mitchell) and energetic direction by Michael Mayer, the play's relentless whimsy makes for an evening that's difficult to bear.

*I Sent a Letter to My Love (Primary Stages Company): Set in a small town in the 1950s, this chamber musical concerns a brother and sister. She's an ''old maid,'' and he's confined to a wheelchair. To ease his loneliness, she enters into an imaginary correspondence with him, pretending to be a woman from another town. But things get out of hand, and the pair's emotional desperation rises to the surface. The production involves plenty of talent -- pop singer Melissa Manchester (music and lyrics), Jeffrey Sweet (book and lyrics), Pat Birch (direction), and veteran musical theater performers Robert Westenberg and Lynne Wintersteller -- but the show never seriously addresses its provocative subtext. Still, this one-set musical is likely to become a staple at regional theaters.