Review THE OLD FRIENDS Offers an Albee-ish Side of Foote
I don't know if that's ever happened but the resulting punch line might seem very much like The Old Friends, Foote's latest trip to his fictional East Texas town of Harrison that opens at the Signature after about 45 years in the making and four years after the playwright's passing.
The comfy coziness that so identifies the bulk of his oeuvre is spiced up here with vicious cattiness, cruel power-playing and lots of casual cocktailing, all set to 1960s-style swingin' bossa nova soundtrack.
Lois Smith, that divine interpreter of Foote's more fragile matriarchs, sweetly portrays widow Mamie, who lives unhappily with her well-off but excessively materialistic daughter, Julia (drippingly droll Veanne Cox) and her ill-tempered husband, Albert (Adam LeFevre).
Mamie's son Hugo, unsuccessful in the oil business and in ill health, is moving back to town and is expected any moment, but his wife, Sybil shows up alone, explaining he had died of a heart attack while exiting the plane. The emotionally bottled, quiet and polite Sybil is essayed by HAllie Foote, who consistently gives outstandingly nuanced performances in her father's work.
Most of the family's economy is connected to bossy and boozy land-owning widow Gertrude (Betty Buckley, playing just the right degree of overdramatic bitchiness), who carries a torch for her kindly business manager, Howard (Cotter Smith, anchoring the evening with controlled sincerity). Howard was Sybil's beau before she married Hugo and he still pines for her.
Some of the combustible friction, like when Gertrude selfishly rejects a vital business deal for Howard while lounging in a dressing gown in her enormous and ornamental bed or when a liquor-fueled family gathering nearly wrecks the joint, could easily teeter into campiness, but director Michael Wilson's finely detailed production keeps the tensions horrifically real.
And with one of the best acting ensembles in town exquisitely working off of each other, The Old Friends makes for a riveting evening.