Monday, November 23, 2009

The Orphans' Home Cycle, Part 1: The Story of a Childhood Production Photos

Henry Hodges and Dylan Riley Snyder

Check out these beautiful production photos from The Orphans' Home Cycle, Part 1: The Story of a Childhood. All photos by Gregory Costanzo.

Jenny Dare Paulin and Bill Heck

Leon Addison Brown, Charles Turner, Henry Hodges and James DeMarse

Pat Bowie, Charles Turner, Henry Hodges, Leon Addison Brown and James DeMarse

Bill Heck and Pamela Payton-Wright

Bill Heck and Annalee Jefferies

Henry Hodges and Gilbert Owuor

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Critics Rave About ORPHANS' HOME CYCLE, PART 1!

THE ORPHANS’ HOME CYCLE, PART 1: THE STORY OF A CHILDHOOD, the first part of the world premiere, three part theatrical event by the Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award-winning playwright Horton Foote, opened last night at Signature Theatre Company at the Peter Norton Space, 555 West 42nd Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues – and the critics are cheering!

Here’s a sample of what the critics had to say about THE ORPHANS’ HOME CYCLE, PART 1: THE STORY OF A CHILDHOOD:

Heart of a Small Town, Vast in its Loneliness
Ben Brantley, NEW YORK TIMES

“Two fresh-faced fishermen, wearing solemn expressions and suspenders, sit on a riverbank, looking as if they were waiting for Norman Rockwell to show up with his easel. “You’re on your own now,” one of them says.

“I’m on my own,” the other answers, staring straight ahead. He is 12, and his father has just died. He is not kidding. He is also absolutely right.

This sun-clouding moment of perception, in which an all-American idyll takes on a mortal chill, occurs in the opening chapter of what promises to be the great adventure of this theater season: the New York premiere of “The Orphans’ Home Cycle,” Horton Foote’s heart-piercing, nine-play family album about growing up lonely in Texas in the early 20th century. The boy who sees his future with so little mercy one afternoon in 1902 is named Horace Robedaux. And though he is hardly what you would call a happy lad, he is unusually honest, and I think you’re going to want to spend as much time in his company as you can.

That means sitting for roughly nine hours at the Peter Norton Space of the Signature Theater Company, where the three three-play installments of the cycle will be playing during the next four months. But on the basis of the first part, which opened on Thursday night under the umbrella title “The Story of a Childhood,” nine hours may not feel like enough.

Directed with cinematic fluidity and novelistic detail by Michael Wilson, “The Story of a Childhood” leaves you as eager as a kid who has just started his first fat work of fiction by Charles Dickens, say, or Mark Twain, when putting down the book, even for an hour, feels like punishment. Written in the 1970s by Foote, the theater’s great chronicler of existential sadness in small-town America, “The Orphans’ Home Cycle” has never before been produced as a whole, though most of its plays have been seen separately in stage or screen versions. Foote was editing and revising them for this production, which originated at the Hartford Stage, when he died in March at 92. And as interpreted by Mr. Wilson, the first part of this tale of a life based on that of Foote’s father isn’t a stately memorial to an eminent dramatist; it’s a thrilling demonstration of an artist long regarded only as a miniaturist soaring into the realm of the epic.”

Click here to read the entire review:

Horton Foote Chronicles a Man’s Search for Identity
Michael Kuchwara, ASSOCIATED PRESS

“Don't be fooled by the deceptively gentle way Part 1 of Horton Foote's extraordinary "Orphans' Home Cycle" initially unfolds.

Twenty-year-old Horace Robedaux is on a train heading to Houston from Harrison, Texas, the epicenter of many of the playwright's best works. Horace is traveling to visit his mother, sister and stepfather for what turns out to be a troubling reunion.

But make no mistake. Part 1, which the Signature Theatre Company has opened off-Broadway at its Peter Norton Space, is not standard family soap opera. It's an impressive introduction to Foote's three-part, nine-play marathon. The other parts will arrive later in the season, although all three already have had a critically acclaimed run at Connecticut's Hartford Stage, which is co-producing this mammoth project.

If Part 1 of "The Orphans' Home Cycle" is any indication, we are in for a remarkable journey. It appears Foote, who died earlier this year at the age of 92, couldn't have had a better legacy.”

Click here to read the entire review:

Horton Foote: ‘Home’ at Last

“Horton Foote, who died in March at the age of 92, had to wait until the very end of his life to win general recognition as one of America's greatest playwrights. The tide was turned by a sterling pair of Off-Broadway revivals, the Signature Theatre Company's 2005 production of "The Trip to Bountiful" and Primary Stages' 2007 production of "Dividing the Estate," that opened the eyes of a new generation of theatergoers to Foote's low-key mastery. When "Dividing the Estate" transferred to Broadway the following year, he scored his first commercial success on the New York stage—just in time for him to revel in it. Would that Foote could have lived to attend the New York opening of the first part of "The Orphans' Home Cycle," co-produced by Signature and Connecticut's Hartford Stage, where all three installments were seen earlier this year. It will, I suspect, be remembered as the most significant theatrical event of the season, the kind of show you tell your grandchildren you saw.”

Click here to read the entire review:

Horton Foote, Tarell Alvin McCraney tell family stories
Linda Winer, NEWSDAY

“The first three of Horton Foote's last nine plays have his customary ease, elegance and deceptive simplicity. This is straightforward storytelling, inspired by the life of the playwright's father. It is mostly set in the playwright's favorite hometown surrogate, the fictional Harrison, Texas, and features, in a number of roles, his daughter and worthy flame keeper, Hallie Foote.

This part of the cycle begins in 1902, when Horace Robedaux, 12, (an astonishingly poised Dylan Riley Snyder) endures the death of his kind but alcoholic father and the realization that his mother's new husband will only support Horace's bratty sister Lily Dale. The evening ends in 1910, after Horace (the engaging Bill Heck) has endured a Dickensian series of picaresque affronts. Twenty-two actors play multiple roles under Michael Wilson's loving direction.”

Click here to read the entire review:

The Orphans’ Home Cycle: Part 1
An American Classic Begins

“Five stars (out of five). Director Michael Wilson and his versatile, highly talented ensemble (including the radiant Hallie Foote, the late author’s daughter) wrestle their material into shape, delivering three hours of episodic narrative spanning 1902 to 1910 without a dull moment. Two more parts of this trilogy remain, and we shall see if Horace fnds his place in the world. Foote’s understated epic is an authentic American classic about the birth pangs of the 20th century. It’s told with humor, deep sadness and great writerly craft. I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

Click here to read the entire review:

The Orphans’ Home Cycle: Part 1 – The Story of a Childhood

“Happiness is illusory and joy fleeting, but there's much melancholy beauty to be found in The Story of a Childhood, the first third of the late Horton Foote's nine-play Orphans Home Cycle at Off Broadway's Signature Theatre Company.

With its tales of harsh times, social and economic change, Reconstruction, education, and industry in small-town America, The Story of a Childhood heralds the beginning of something extraordinary. And you'll be waiting with baited breath for Foote's next chapter. Grade: A–“

Click here to read the entire review:,,20321559,00.html

The Orphans’ Home Cycle: Part 1 – The Story of a Childhood
Erik Haagensen, BACKSTAGE

“From the moment the redoubtable Pamela Payton-Wright settles into her train seat and, as an enthusiastic elderly Southern Baptist, engages the young male stranger seated before her with ladylike aggression, you know you are in the best of hands. By the time director Michael Wilson's bone-deep production of the first part of Horton Foote's "The Orphans' Home Cycle" is over, nearly three hours have passed in the blink of an eye. I wanted the second part to begin immediately.

With two installments still to come, it's premature to characterize the complete work. But if they live up to the first part, what we are being served here is nothing less than an American masterwork.”

Click here to read the entire review:

The Orphans’ Home Cycle: Part 1

“Before passing away earlier this year at the age of 92, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Horton Foote edited down and combined nine of his plays into a three-part opus, collectively called The Orphans' Home Cycle, and now being presented by the Signature Theatre Company in a co-production with Hartford Stage. And the overall fine quality of the two hour-and-fifty-minute first installment makes for an excellent start to this epic undertaking.”

Click here to read the entire review:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Behind the Scenes Video -- The Road to New York

Performances of The Orphans' Home Cycle, Part 1: The Story of Childhood began last week at Signature Theatre Company, but that hasn't stopped Bryce Pinkham from continuing to bring you a behind the scenes look at the world premiere of Horton Foote's trilogy! Check out the video below for footage of the cast and crew preparing for the first preview at Hartford Stage back in September, as well as celebrating their accomplishment after the show. And stay tuned for even more glimpses at what the backstage happenings of this massive theatrical event!

Dramaturg's Diary: Running the Orphans' Marathon

Saturday, October 17th, marks the world premiere marathon of Horton Foote’s The Orphans’ Home Cycle at Hartford Stage. I have actually never participated in a theatre marathon of this magnitude and intensity before, though I do know the basics of marathon-watching. Eat protein. Hydrate. Stretch at the intermissions. And, according to Will Cantler, our Casting Director and an experienced marathon-watcher, “Don’t over-caffeinate.” Caffeine aside, there is a definite buzz of anticipation in the lobby of Hartford Stage, as HS staffers hand out marathon badges, pins, water bottles, peanuts, and other accoutrements to aide us on our epic Orphans’ journey.

At 11AM we take our seats for Part One of the cycle, The Story of a Childhood, which consists of the acts Roots in a Parched Ground, Convicts, and Lily Dale. Having seen this section performed a little over a month ago, it is exciting to see how it has progressed. Even though I have been reading, eating, breathing, sleeping these plays (as has everyone else involved in this project, both on and offstage) I still see new resonances every time I watch them. At one point in Roots in a Parched Ground, I catch my breath when one character says a – seemingly innocuous – line and the impact of what will happen to him five plays later hits me with full force.

After a boxed-lunch arranged by Hartford Stage at the Hilton Hotel, we resume with Part Two: The Story of a Marriage (consisting of The Widow Claire, Courtship, and Valentine’s Day) at 3PM. At this point in our journey, we firmly plant ourselves in Harrison, Texas and get to know a new generation of residents, as well as follow up with some already familiar from previous acts. Although Horace remains the central character, we meet some very strong, complicated women who drive the action, in the form of his two love interests, Claire Ratliff and Elizabeth Vaughn. I find this section unabashedly romantic and yet the more I see it, the more I recognize how Horton has woven bittersweet truths about family, adulthood, and sacrifice, amidst the joy and exhilaration of finding one’s soul mate.

We return to the Hilton for dinner after the close of Part Two and sit down to Elizabeth’s Crowd-Drawing Mac and Cheese, Miss Ruth’s Pecan-Crusted Tilapia, and Ed’s Ganado Barbequed Beef Brisket (all of the menu items for both lunch and dinner are named for characters in The Orphans’ Home Cycle). Everyone is dying to talk about Orphans’ with the first person they see. They have become quite attached to and invested in all of the characters, whom they have come to think of as friends or even family. After dessert, as we ready to return for Part Three: The Story of a Family (1918, Cousins, and The Death of Papa), someone says, “I hope no more bad things happen to Horace!” I just take a final gulp of my Admiration Coffee (“A cup of Southern Hospitality!”), knowing that Part Three is actually a particularly turbulent time for Horace and his family, as they face war, disease, and a harsh economy.

The breadth of this journey, both Horace’s and ours’, really hits home for me in this part. My head spins a bit when I see the matriarchal Corella Davenport and Inez Kirby (Annalee Jefferies and Pamela Payton-Wright) in their twilight years, sitting together on Horace’s porch in the final act, The Death of Papa. I recall them in Roots in a Parched Ground, which suddenly feels like a lifetime ago, when they were Corella Robedaux and Inez Thornton (Virgina Kull and Maggie Lacey) sitting on the Thornton porch, playing guitar and singing “Beautiful Dreamer,” with little idea of what the next twenty-six years would have in store for them.

Part Three also heralds the arrival of Horace, Jr., (Dylan Riley Snyder) the character Horton Foote modeled after himself. He appears only in The Death of Papa, but his birth is announced in 1918. When Mrs. Boone asks Mr. Vaughn, “Was it a boy or a girl?” and he replies, simply, “A boy,” I get chills, as even though we are nearly at the end of the cycle, one feels the beginning of something else. It is a boy, and he is going to tell all of your stories, I think.

And then it’s over. The giddy excitement of the occasion has transitioned into a sense of awe and profundity. I can’t help remembering the first reading of Parts One and Two at Lincoln Center Theater in January 2009, when Horton was still with us. I have been told that at that reading he knew for the first time that he had something, and that these nine adapted plays would work. Now we have proven him right. Yet although we feel this immense sense of accomplishment, we still have a long road ahead of us, as in two weeks the company arrives at Signature for their five month residency with us. But if Horton and The Orphans’ Home Cycle marathon have taught us anything, it’s that the journey can be as rewarding as the destination.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Orphans' Home Cycle in the News

With performances starting last week, the buzz is growing on The Orphans' Home Cycle! Check out these press features:

Variety Review of The Orphans' Home Cycle, by Frank Rizzo:
“A tranformative work! A stunning achievement! The Orphans’ Home Cycle is an intimate American epic that’s at once personal and panoramic. In his final gift to the theater Foote has created a work of gentle existentialism…as quietly profound as a zen master’s prayer. Michael Wilson helms the staggering project with loving care and a sense of rich theatricality, humor and
history. The suberb design team also echoes the Foote ethic with grace and care.”

Read full review here

"Orphans' Home Cycle Actors Visit Foote's Home Turf of Wharton, Texas"
Photos of Orphans' actors Bill Heck, Maggie Lacey and Bryce Pinkham visitng Horton Foote's hometown of Wharton, Texas

Click here for article

"Horton Foote, An Appreciation: A Playwright for the Common Man," by Gregory M. Lamb
"As a playwright, Horton Foote grappled with the great themes of human existence: love, despair, home, family, identity, redemption. And he often found them all in the lives of people in the little town of Harrison, Texas, the fictional setting for many of his works..."

Click here for full article

Also check out John Lahr's critic-at-large piece on Horton Foote in the October 26 issue of The New Yorker.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Video Interviews with Bill Heck, Maggie Lacey and Hallie Foote

Portraying characters in The Orphans' Home Cycle based on playwright Horton Foote's parents is no easy feat -- just ask actors Bill Heck and Maggie Lacey! Lacey is playing a part originated on stage and film by Hallie Foote, Horton's daughter, who herself is playing a character inspired by her own grandmother. What a complicated family tree!

Check out actors Bill Heck, Maggie Lacey and Hallie Foote talking about Horton and the mammoth Orphans' Home Cycle.

Bill Heck:

Maggie Lacey:


Hallie Foote: