History and horton Foote have one thing in common: Both repeat themselves. But whereas history is bloody and inexorable, Foote is kindly and compassionate. Also the most charming of men, impossible not to like and almost impossible not to review favorably. His plays and screenplays are situated midway between Tennessee Williams and William Saroyan, between stories of likable eccentrics usually defeated by a cruel fate and stories of likable eccentrics usually managing to outwit fate. Their victories are modest, but so are their expectations.
With his latest, The Day Emily Married, the 88-year-old Texan strikes out in a new direction, that of Sean O’Casey, as this absorbing, intermittently comic drama ends in tragedy. It is the story of an old married couple, Lee and Lyd Davis, and their divorced daughter, Emily. She is marrying Richard, an oil worker who has been helping out on the Davis farms, which the tired Lee plans to sell; he intends to set hardworking Richard up in business. Richard aims for the get-rich-quick (but risky) oil business, Lee for something more conservative. An unsuccessful tenant farmer who owes Lee a large sum will be shown no further mercy by the empowered Richard, with potentially dire consequences; son-in-law also has some suspicious connection with a beautiful but predatory ex-girlfriend. It emerges that, in his different way, Richard may be no better than Emily’s first husband, a drunkard and ne’er-do-well. Also that Lyd is semi-demented and unintentionally self-destructive. And all this is only the half of it.
It is a strong play, tellingly directed by Michael Wilson in a well-designed production. Estelle Parsons (Lyd); William Biff McGuire (Lee); Hallie Foote, the author’s daughter (Emily); James Colby (Richard); and the rest give solid, indeed moving, performances. Foote often writes plays that, like this one, are based on the lives of successive generations of his small-town Texas ancestors. In due time, when they can be fully assessed as a cycle, their joint and individual impact may increase. This much is certain already: Though old-fashioned, the work is generally too well crafted to make Foote a mere epigone.