nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
October 6, 2012
The question of legacy is the prevalent one in Him, Daisy Foote’s intriguing and flawed new play at Primary Stages. The legacy belongs to the titular Him, the nameless father who lies dying after a stroke in the off-stage bedroom. At the play’s start, he has left his three grown children nothing but bills and calls from collection agencies, the family’s general store similarly dying after the arrival of Wal-Marts and other mega markets.
Set in New Hampshire in 2003 and 2004, Him is Primary Stages’ continuation of their Foote family series, which began late this past summer with Daisy’s father Horton Foote’s Harrison, Tx. The goal, press notes say, is to “shed light on this family of artists and the shared ideas that infuse their work.” Both productions feature Hallie Foote, Horton’s daughter and Daisy’s sister, in crucial roles.
Ms. Foote plays Pauline, the erstwhile family matriarch, an ice queen with a penchant for boxed wine and is the main caregiver to both of her brothers, the dour, gay Henry (Tim Hopper) and the developmentally disabled Farley (Adam LeFevre). When their father passes on, they discover he’s left them miles and miles and miles of land, which, if developed, can abolish their financial worries. But the subsequent discovery of their father’s journals throws a potential wrench into the plan.
The text itself is fascinatingly laid out, a series of dialogue scenes interspersed with lyrical monologues that you soon realize are excerpts from the father’s journals. As staged by Evan Yionoulis, it doesn’t always play as well as it might read; the monologues stopping the scenes in the midst of the action, the lights falling to a simple spotlight, and then rising again as the scenes continue. The larger problem is that Foote gradually builds the piece to a climax that isn’t really sufficient; with the revelation of the “secret” that isn’t much of a secret, and a disconcerting final few moments that shift the play’s already dark tone into even bleaker territory.
Hallie Foote is monumentally tremendous, easily sinking her teeth – and whole body – into the text and gleefully giving a ferocious, bitchy performance as Pauline. Hopper is affecting as the lonely Henry, while LeFevre delivers smart, well-intentioned work that never ever devolves into caricature. So too does Adina Verson as the similarly disabled Louise, who becomes Farley’s girlfriend, to the chagrin of his siblings, who feel that he doesn’t deserve happiness, especially when they don’t have it themselves.
Ultimately, Him does strike a lot of the same tones as Horton Foote’s plays. The characters are believably human, richly textured and deeply flawed, with memories of the past that haunt their actual lives in the present. But Daisy Foote has also established her own style, and while Him isn’t perfect, it’s a compelling piece from a playwright whose work I’m looking forward to seeing more of.