The Ultimate Culture Guide 2009: F

Foote’s Final Act

When American theater legend Horton Foote died in March, he left behind a six-decade legacy that included an Oscar for his 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird screenplay and a 1995 Pulitzer for his play The Young Man from Atlanta, a tale, like most of his works, set in Texas and portraying ordinary folks coping with life’s cruel curveballs. But the 92-year-old playwright was hardly finished.

For the last 14 months of his life, he’d been at work on one of the most ambitious projects of his career: distilling his epic nine-play Orphans’ Home Cycle into hour-long acts to be performed as three separate plays or as daylong marathons—à la Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia at Lincoln Center two years ago. Commissioned by the Hartford Stage, the plays will begin performances in Connecticut on September 3 and later in the fall at Manhattan’s Signature Theatre. (In September, Free Press will publish Horton Foote: America’s Storyteller by theater critic Wilborn Hampton, a longtime friend of the playwright’s.)

Tracing the life of Horace Robedaux, a character based on Foote’s own father, from 1902 to 1928, The Orphans’ Home Cycle has more than 80 speaking roles and will involve about 20 actors, not least Hallie Foote, the playwright’s daughter. “It’s the first time that a cycle by an American writer has been performed like this,” says Hartford Stage artistic director Michael Wilson, a champion of Foote’s for more than 20 years. “It would be a crime for these plays not to be experienced by an audience. If we can do it for Aeschylus and Dickens—The Oresteia, Nicholas Nickleby—why not for Horton?”