Theater Review: ‘The Roads to Home’

By Diana Barth
Diana Barth
Diana Barth
Diana Barth writes for various theatrical publications and for New Millennium. She may be contacted at diabarth99@gmail.com
November 8, 2016 Updated: November 8, 2016

NEW YORK—Set in 1920s Texas, in the fictitious town of Harrison, “The Roads to Home” demonstrates the slow but not necessarily serene quality of days gone by in small-town America.

The two-time Oscar winner Horton Foote (screenplays for “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Tender Mercies”) presents the drama in three interlinked one-acts.

I am reminded of Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town,’ which is pervaded by calm acceptance.

In “A Nightingale,” as Mabel Votaugh (Hallie Foote, the playwright’s daughter) visits with her neighbor and close friend Vonnie Hayhurst (Harriet Harris), they are interrupted by the appearance of Mabel’s almost daily visitor, younger Annie Gayle Long (Rebecca Brooksher).

It soon becomes apparent that Annie is not sane, and she repeatedly relives a dreadful moment in her life, when she witnessed her father’s murder by another citizen of the town.

Although Mabel and Vonnie try to bring Annie back to reality, Annie occasionally fires an imaginary gun and confuses the names of her own children with those of her mother.

Mercifully, Annie’s husband (Dan Bittner) arrives to take Annie home. However, he expresses great annoyance at Annie’s continual lapses from reality, and her taking him from his important work. He hints that major action will be taken against Annie if she does not mend her ways.

Hallie Foote in her father's play "The Roads to Home." (James Leynse)
Hallie Foote in her father’s play “The Roads to Home.” (James Leynse)

In “The Dearest of Friends,” it first seems that Mabel and Vonnie are simply getting together for one of their typical gossipy chats. However, as the talk goes on, Vonnie cannot contain herself; she must impart to Mabel her horrible situation, all the while Mabel’s husband, Jack (played by Hallie Foote’s real-life husband Devon Abner), sits sound asleep nearby in his favorite easy chair.

Vonnie’s bad news is that her husband is having an affair with a younger woman and he has asked her for a divorce. Here, Mabel shows some fire when she strongly advises Vonnie not to give it to him.

In an unexpected turn of events, Vonnie’s husband, Eddie (Matt Sullivan), comes onto the scene and tearfully expresses regret for what has happened. He had always only wanted to do the right thing and seems bewildered by his own actions.

Jack awakens from his nap to take part in the ensuing discussion, for which no resolution is forthcoming.

“Spring Dance” takes place in a pleasant garden waiting area adjoining what might be an elegant ballroom. As it happens, the setting is simply part of a mental institution in which Annie and three young men, all formally dressed, are inmates. They are all from the nearby town, in which they had grown up. One announces proudly that he is to go home the next day, although a recent incident makes that doubtful.

(L–R) Matt Sullivan, Devon Abner, Dan Bittner, and Rebecca Brooksher in
(L–R) Matt Sullivan, Devon Abner, Dan Bittner, and Rebecca Brooksher in “Spring Dance,” one of three acts in “The Roads to Home.” (James Leynse)

Annie, who refuses to dance as she is a married woman, is in denial about the true, unfortunate facts of her life in regard to her husband and her children. One doubts she may ever leave this place.

Elements of sadness pervade the offering, but the overall effect is not one of sadness. It is leavened with a great deal of wit and humor, and one senses somehow that this is life—life for just about everyone, in all walks of life, everywhere. One must simply get through it the best way he or she can. This is not negativity; it is simply realistic.

I am reminded of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” which is pervaded by calm acceptance. One might fittingly use the current “in” phrase to describe these universal experiences: “It is what it is.”

Direction by Foote veteran Michael Wilson (“The Trip to Bountiful, “The Orphans’ Home Cycle”) hits all the right notes, gently but surely. Hallie Foote appears to have made a career out of portraying her father’s characters, playing the younger roles when a younger actress. Unquestionably, she has done her father proud. (Horton Foote died in 2009).

Hallie’s husband, Devon Abner, works in sync with her, making a most effective husband-and-wife team in life and in art.

Award-winning Broadway veteran Harriet Harris makes the most of Vonnie, infusing the role with verve and passion.

The remainder of the cast offers fine, specifically defined characterizations that bring Horton Foote’s simple but meaningful words to life.

I think I speak for many when I say that after viewing a Horton Foote play, one feels uplifted and energized.

‘The Roads to Home’
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce St. 
Running Time: 2 hours (one intermission)
Tickets:  212-352-3101  or PrimaryStages.org
Closes: Nov. 27

Diana Barth writes for several arts publications, including New Millennium. She may be contact at diabarth99@gmail.com

Diana Barth
Diana Barth writes for various theatrical publications and for New Millennium. She may be contacted at diabarth99@gmail.com