Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Old Friends

Last year for Labor Day weekend, I was in New York helping a friend celebrate his 50th birthday party.  I didn't have much time that weekend but I did make it a point to see Kinky Boots.

This year, I didn't have any plans to go out of town.  I was OK with that I thought but as the days were counting down and friends were making plans to get away to NYC, New Orleans, Austin, blah, blah, blah, I was feeling a bit down.

So...I thought to myself, "Well, why travel when there are a myriad of things to do in Houston?"  And, I love the theatre so why not see a play? And why not see Betty Buckley?  I mean how many times do I get THAT opportunity?

So...I purchased a ticket to today's matinee performance of The Alley Theatre's production of Horton Foote's The Old Friends.  I'm a big fan of Betty and Horton so this was a win/win situation.  A native Texan in a native Texan's play with the playwright's daughter.  OY!

I'm not a theatre critic and I don't play on one on tv but I know great acting and a great production when I see it and let me tell you, I saw it this afternoon.

The cast consists of Jeffrey Bean, Betty Buckley, Veanne Cox, Michelle Elaine , Hallie Foote, Annalee Jefferies, Novella Nelson, Cotter Smith, and Jay Sullivan.  Small cast.  Powerful punch.

It was great to see Betty perform but it was also great to see Hallie Foote on stage.  Seeing Hallie onstage was a first for me.  Every actor contributed to the high range of emotions throughout the play: sadness; laughter; anger; jealousy...just to name a few.  And at one point, I realized how enveloped I was because I heard myself gasp.

photo credit: The Alley Theatre
The venue is perfect for this play.  It's small and cozy and sometimes I actually felt like I was in the home of the characters.  Sometimes I felt like I was being transported to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Last Picture Show and Designing Women with hints of Mama's Family. And it's all good.

The play is set in the fictional town of Harrison, TX, which is the fictional name for Wharton, TX.  I've been to Wharton many times and maybe that is why I got sucked into the setting.  (At the end of this post, I've copied from some of the information about the play.  No need to reinvent the wheel.)

The play ends its run on September 7.  I highly recommend you purchase a ticket as soon as possible.  And, if you're not familiar with the University of Houston campus, I recommend you allow some extra time.

Now, here is the REALLY exciting part of the day.  I really didn't plan on waiting for Betty but...

When the play was over I went to the Mens' Room.  It was then that I realized the cast would be exiting in the vicinity of the restrooms but first I needed to purchase Betty's Ah, Men! The Boys of Broadway.  So I purchase the cd and I'm checking my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts because I complied and turned off my phone during the production.  And the next thing I know, out walks Betty! It was great to see her again and she was so gracious. And I think I told her twice that she was fabulous because I couldn't think of a butch word to use.

Thank you Betty and the cast of the play.  It has been a Saturday well spent in Houston!

From (click on the link for the entire review):
"Horton Foote's THE OLD FRIENDS is set in 1960 in the fictional town of Harrison, Texas. It's the story of two antagonistic, established Texas families who are waiting for the arrival of the family matriarch's son Hugo and his wife Sibyl. Sibyl arrives with devastating news, and the "old friends" on opposite sides must reconcile with such issues as loyalty, happiness, and family dynamics. This production, directed by the accomplished Michael Wilson, premiered Off-Broadway in 2013 with many of the same cast members and is much-anticipated as the first production in the Alley Theatre's 2014-2015 season.

Annalee Jefferies plays the disenfranchised family matriarch, Mamie Borden. Jefferies has a subtle style that is affective in playing this gentle and resigned character, and her comedic moments are endearing and welcome. Mamie unfortunately lives with her petty and dissatisfied daughter, Julia, played expertly by the entertaining Veanne Cox, and Julia's husband Albert, an angry man who likes his drink, played by Jeffrey Bean. Bean inhabits the role with intensity and appropriate rage, and Albert has plenty to be angry about- Julia is rather indiscreet in her dabbling with a younger man, played by nubile Jay Sullivan.

Gertrude Hayhurst Sylvester Ratliff, a wealthy woman who fills the emptiness in her life with drinking and power games, is played by Betty Buckley. Gertrude seems to have her greedy fingers in everybody's lives, and Buckley, known for her outstanding work playing larger-than-life-characters, is completely credible as the power-hungry Gertrude. The character would be easy to abhor, but Buckley infuses her portrayal with vulnerability and desperation, making Gertrude a woman you want to slap but then hug, or vice versa. One of the more chilling moments in the play occures when Gertrude presents a bribe to her sister in law, Sybil Borden, played by Hallie Foote. A veritable expert of her father's work, Foote is self-assured and even-keeled as Sybil, one of the few sober characters who seems to have her feet firmly planted on the ground. Foote executes the role with a studied gentleness and sensitivity, portraying a woman dealing with grief, money woes, and the glimmer of a renewed love with Howard, Gertrude's employee, brother in law, and Sybil's old flame 30 years ago. Cotter Smith plays Howard with skilled ease and humility, often being the voice of reason in the midst of a severely dysfunctional family."

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