Horton Foote: The playwright's 'Odyssey' for modern times
Epic nine-hour 'The Orphan's Home Cycle,' opening in New York, explores how people face adversity and the elusive search for home.
As a boy in the 1920s, Horton Foote used to eavesdrop on the lives of the adults in his small Texas town. The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright later drew on these memories to write numerous plays, including nine based closely on his own family's past.Skip to next paragraph
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While the plays can seem deceptively modest, they do no less than reveal "the essential characteristics of the American identity," says Michael Wilson, the artistic director of the Hartford (Conn.) Stage Company.
Mr. Wilson, a longtime collaborator with Mr. Foote, had long wanted to produce all nine plays, several of which had never reached the stage. In late 2007 he asked Foote if he could condense them into three, three-hour plays that could be seen by theatergoers in a single day.
At the time of his death last March, Foote had essentially completed his task. "The Orphan's Home Cycle" was born.
In October, Hartford Stage presented a world première of "Cycle," including two marathon Saturdays in which ardent fans could see all nine hours – broken up by lunch and dinner breaks – in one day.
The unique play cycle, which closed in Hartford Oct. 24, reopens in New York City Nov. 5 at the Signature Theatre Company and runs until at least March 28, 2010. Theatergoers will be able to see any of the three parts – subtitled "The Story of a Childhood," "The Story of a Marriage," and "The Story of a Family" – individually or, on three occasions, in all-day marathons.
With the exception of August Wilson, who has written 10 separate plays about an African-American neighborhood in Pittsburgh, "The Orphan's Home Cycle" may be an unprecedented undertaking in American theater history, Wilson says.
Foote is best known for adapting the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" to the screen, his Academy Award-winning screenplay for "Tender Mercies," and his Academy Award nomination for writing "The Trip to Bountiful." He won a 1995 Pulitzer Prize for his play "The Young Man From Atlanta."
"The Orphan's Home Cycle" is distinctly relevant and timeless, even though Foote "bound [the plays] to a very specific place, and years, and manners," Wilson says. "They are perhaps more relevant than any contemporary play I can name."
The plays track the life of Horace Robedaux from the time he is a young boy whose father has died to the time after the death of his father-in-law when he becomes the family patriarch. Like a classic hero, Horace must meet a series of challenges from an early age. Yet he manages to survive and eventually prosper. The character of Horace is based on the life of Foote's own father.
Among the themes Foote explores are the elusive search to find "home" and the question of how people face adversity. Horace is on an "Odyssey," Wilson suggests in program notes, "as profound and epic as Odysseus' return journey."