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Tom Titus

THEATER REVIEW --

April 04, 2002

The young man from Atlanta never makes an appearance in Horton Foote's

"Young Man From Atlanta," but his omnipresent shadow darkens the lives of

a Houston family at the midpoint of the last century.

Much like the 1950s period the play depicts, the production at the

Newport Theatre Arts Center plods grimly along, repetitiously, until a

conclusion of sorts is reached. Even for a play that earned the 1995

Pulitzer Prize, "Young Man" is in need of some judicious pruning to

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attain its full potential.

Prolific playwright Foote has reversed the usual order of dramatic

construction. His climax actually arrives early in the play, and the

balance of the evening is spent attempting to ascertain just what led to

these traumatic circumstances. Fringe characters are introduced and

occupy entirely too much time and attention, while expository events are

delivered by one character, then recycled by another a bit later.

Director Phyllis Gitlin has given us a moving experience, but one that

doesn't move with sufficient velocity, as though it would border on

heresy to trim the fat from this corpulent creation. Why, for instance,

is an elderly lady who once served as a maid for the central couple

introduced? What does her presence accomplish in furthering the story?

Nevertheless, "Young Man From Atlanta" contains a pair of stellar

performances in the central roles of Will and Lily Dale Kidder, whose

lives are thrown into turmoil almost from the first line of dialogue.

Will is a proud businessman, approaching 60, whose financial feet are

kicked out from under him, while his wife is a pathetic study in

ultra-religious gullibility.

Jack Messenger delivers a magnificent interpretation of an angry

produce company executive whose abrupt dismissal after 38 years with his

company -- and just after he's built a $200,000 home, a mansion in the

1950s -- culminates in a heart attack when he learns the family's nest

egg has been doled out to a silver-tongued con man who's profiting from

their grown son's suicide. Messenger is superbly accurate in his

portrayal, ranging from emphatic roaring to painful capitulation.

As his equally pained and emotionally conflicted wife, Harriet

Whitmyer beautifully conveys the picture of a vulnerable Southern

homebody who has allowed religion to consume her life in the absence of a

loving son and supportive husband. Whitmyer's heartache is skillfully

enacted as she continues, against her husband's wishes, to contact the

unseen "young man" who may provide a link to her departed son.

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