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The Young Man from Atlanta

a Drama
by Horton Foote

COMPANY : Theatrical Outfit [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Balzer Theatre @ Herren's [WEBSITE]
ID# 3923

SHOWING : January 26, 2011 - February 20, 2011



Theatrical Outfit is pleased to present the Atlanta premiere of Horton Foote's 1995 Pulitzer Prize-winning Drama. Will Kidder (Tom Key) evokes Arthur Miller's iconic tragic hero, Willy Loman, as a 1950s Houston salesman who learns too late that his bargain with business success may have cost him his only son. As he and his wife struggle to understand the loss of their child, they are confronted about the true nature of their son's identity when the young man of the title--his son's roommate--arrives from Atlanta. Directed by Jessica Phelps West, this production is recommended for ages 16 and up due to adult language and content.

Composer Kendall Simpson
Director Jessica Phelps West
Costume Designer Jonida Beqo
Set Designer Dale Brubaker
Lighting Designer Jessica Coale
Stage Manager Wendy Palmer
Props Designer M. C. Park
Hair & Wig Designer J. Montgomery Schuth
Carson Tim Batten
Tom Jackson Andrew Benator
Etta Doris Meneffree Donna Biscoe
Ted Cleveland, Jr. Robin Bloodworth
Lilly Dale Kidder Marianne Hammock
Clara Tonia Jackson
Will Kidder Tom Key
Pete Davenport Frank Roberts
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


The Details of People
by Dedalus
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Houston, 1950. Will Kidder, in the twilight of his life, has made a huge investment in his dream house, a large mansion for he and his wife, Lily Dale, to spend their final years. Always a driven “Type A” salesman (“I’ve always been competitive!”), he has no plans to retire, and no pension or retirement plan to support such an unheard of choice. To his surprise, he loses his job because his company wants someone younger to wage his daily skirmishes.

On top of this stroke of ill fortune, Will and Lily Dale are still mourning the death of their son, Bill, the victim of a tragic accident that seems more and more like suicide. Now, Bill’s former “roommate” is coming around, either trying to reconcile with the parents of his lost friend, or trying to bilk them out of as much money as he can.

That’s the set-up of “The Young Man from Atlanta,” Horton Foote’s quietly evocative 1995 Pulitzer Prize winner now receiving a wonderful production at Theatrical Outfit. Steeped in the silences and omissions that all families share, this play quietly documents a period in American history when the work ethics were changing and the sexual revolution with its liberalizing attitude towards gay relationships was still years in the future. In spite of all that, the workforce dilemma faced by Will Kidder is agonizingly contemporary.

Horton Foote’s body work is a marvel of understatement. His characters usually have small dreams, small goals, and small actions (though he often chafed at the characterization of his work as “small”). The drama in his work comes from how his characters bring lifetimes of experience, good and bad, into the challenges the present always seems to bring. He is most famous for the screenplay for “Tender Mercies” and the film adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” However, I think his best work is a nine-play series called the “Orphan’s Home Cycle,” which follows several families through several generations of small town Texas life. In this saga more than any other work, he shows how small choices and mistakes can have devastating repercussions years, even generations later, and he returned to the characters more than once in the last years of his career.

Will and Lily Dale (and it’s ALWAYS “Lily Dale,” never just “Lily”) are characters from that cycle. We first meet Lily Dale in “Roots in a Parched Ground” (1962) as a spunky 10-year-old witnessing the death of her alcoholic father. “Lily Dale” (1986), set eight years later, chronicles her courtship by Will Kidder. And, in “Cousins” (1983), Will and Lily Dale are at the height of their success and wealth. Although knowledge of these earlier plays is not a requirement for enjoying “Young Man from Atlanta,” I do have to confess that re-reading them last week heightened my enjoyment of this newer play. For example, the first scene seems to be filled with clumsy exposition, but, recognizing the rather self-centered and talkative Will Kidder from the earlier plays makes the dialogue fit in with what I expected of his character.

We also welcome back another character from the cycle, Lily Dale’s step-father, Pete Davenport. What’s interesting about him is that he has changed little from his appearances in the earlier plays. Always quick to judge, slow to forgive, and taciturn to a fault, he represents a bridge to the earlier generations that stayed near home and cast their mindsets in stone. Lily Dale and Will, on the other hand, have grown considerably, mellowing with age and experience, grieving in their own ways – the chief conflict here is in how they treat Bill’s “roommate” – Lily Dale wants to embrace him and trusts him completely, if only to be reminded of her dead son and to honor the friend he left behind. Will rejects him utterly – he recognizes what his son had become, and does not want to be reminded of it. In fact, an argument could be made that Will “blames” the “young man” (who, by the way, we never see) for what Bill had become and can only believe he is in Houston to get even more money from them.

As expected, the cast nails every one of these characters. Tom Key and Marianne Hammock are absolutely wonderful as Will and Lily Dale, showing us a couple who have been together for decades, yet still feel the need to keep secrets from each other. Like the older couples seen recently in “Tokens of Affection” and “Sirens,” they skillfully embody all those unspoken mannerisms and glances and sighs that so characterize couples with a long unspoken history between them. Frank Roberts is good as Pete Davenport, giving this rather cold character a personality that transcends the simplistic expectation I had for him. They are given good support by Tim Batten, Andrew Benator, Donna Biscoe, Robin Bloodworth, Amanda Relaford, and Tonia Jackson. And, the production is given the usual well-balanced and solidly paced direction by Jessica Phelps West.

I also have to give special commendation to set designer Dale Brubaker. He has created a tall and imposing interior that perfectly embodies Will’s “$200,000 Mansion” (what would that be in 2011 dollars?), even to the point of making an office required for the first scene seem a part of the house. Jessica Coale’s lighting and Kendall Simpson’s original music all contribute to creating the world of Mr. Foote’s characters, driving the mood of the play.

In an essay introducing a volume of plays from the Orphan’s Home Cycle, Mr. Foote is quoted:

“I believe very deeply in the human spirit, and I have a sense of awe about it. I’ve known people the world has thrown everything at – to discourage them, to kill them, to break their spirit. … And yet something about them retains a dignity. They face life and they don’t ask quarters. ,,, I’ve just seen example after example of people enduring things I absolutely couldn’t. I’m always measuring myself [against that].”

His plays and movies reflect this passion for people and for the way they live and talk. Watching (even reading) one of his plays is like sitting with an older relative as they talk about people and stories they have known, older relatives who know how to capture your attention with a story you didn’t know you wanted to hear.

“The Young Man from Atlanta” is such a story. Will and Lily Dale and Pete are outcasts from an earlier time, living in a period only the oldest among us remember first hand. Yet their story strikes so many chords of recognition, we can’t help but respond.

Mr. Foote died almost two years ago (and is buried in the small town “graveyard full of our cousins”). He has left behind an incredibly diverse body of work, including the masterpiece that is “The Orphans’ Home Cycle,” of which this is an addendum. A production as good as this can only do him honor.

-- Brad Rudy (

Postscript: As information, movies have been made of five of the “Orphans’ Home” plays and may be available online: “Courtship,” “1918,” “On Valentine’s Day,” “Convicts,” and “Lily Dale.”



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