`Lily Dale' continues Horton Foote's chronicle of family life. New play set in Texas brims over with feelings

Lily Dale Play by Horton Foote. Directed by William Alderson. ``Lily Dale,'' at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, begins and ends on a train. Horton Foote introduces this segment of his nine-play cycle as Horace Robedaux (Don Bloomfield) travels from his native Harrison, Texas, to Houston. The play ends with Horace's return journey after a family vist, in the course of which the young man and his sister reunite after a separation that has helped estrange them. In the typically appealing Horton Foote manner, ``Lily Dale'' mixes the bitter with the sweet, the sad with the comic. At times, the small Beckett stage brims over with feelings.

``Lily Dale'' takes place in 1909, mainly in the Houston home of Pete Davenport (Greg Zittel), Horace's unwelcoming stepfather. The stolid Davenport has provided Corella Davenport (Julie Heberlein), Horace's mother, with the domestic security she never enjoyed with her alcoholic, long-deceased first husband. The young man's surreptitious Houston visit is interrupted by Pete Davenport's surprise return home from a business trip. Horace's sudden illness prolongs his stay and brings on the emotional crises of the second act. Lily's devotion to her doting stepfather conflicts sharply with Horace's loyalty to their natural father.

Meanwhile, Mr. Foote is developing the portrait of Lily herself. The pretty 18-year-old is a compulsive chatterbox - spoiled, self-willed, tiresome, and yet somehow forgivable. (Lily Dale's persistent piano playing, whether of classics or ragtime, would certainly have set back the cause of music in Houston.) Making her New York stage debut, Molly Ringwald (whose major film credits include ``The Breakfast Club'' and ``Pretty in Pink'') creates a fresh and fetching image of an impetuous teen-ager in the days when romantic impulse and sexual sophistication were still worlds apart.

Although the title (inspired by an old church song) belongs to Lily Dale, Horace is scarcely secondary in this family retrospective. Mr. Bloomfield plays him with an appealing diffidence and courtesy that mask the young man's underlying determination and sturdiness of character. (Many filmgoers already have encountered Horace in Foote's movies ``On Valentine's Day,'' ``1918,'' and ``Courtship.'')

The excellent cast, directed by William Alderson, includes Johnny Kline as Lily Dale's humorously ardent beau and Jane Welch as the voluble Baptist fellow passenger who helps introduce and conclude this chapter from Foote's tenderly fictionalized family history. The sense of period has been well visualized by Daniel Conway (scenery), Deborah Shaw (costumes), and John Hastings (lighting). ``The Widow Claire,'' another segment of the cycle, is scheduled to begin previews later this month at the downtown Circle in the Square, with a cast headed by Matthew Broderick and Hallie Foote.

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