Daisy Foote is a new writer with considerable promise. Like her celebrated father, the younger Foote concerns herself with the nuances of small-town American life and writes in a realistic style infused with poetic language. “God’s Pictures,” which tempted the canonically conservative Indiana Rep into presenting a rare world premiere, is an early, sometimes awkward play with its share of flaws. But there’s a gentility and quiet poignancy about this New England family drama that delighted the opening night audience and suggests we’ll be hearing more from the play’s author.
The Indiana Rep is enjoying a veritable Foote festival with “God’s Pictures.” Horton Foote, Jr. appears in the play, along with his (and the author’s) sister, Hallie Foote, and the family patriarch showed up during the rehearsal process.
Set entirely in the back room of a New Hampshire bakery, “God’s Pictures” focuses on three generations of contemporary women. Main character Sue (Priscilla Lindsay) has been recently abandoned for the wilds of Alaska by her husband, leaving her to cope with rebellious teenage daughter Caroline (Liz Stauber). Sue’s aging mother-in-law and co-worker (Bella Jarrett) adds to the pressures, insisting on telling her Caroline her dreams (“God’s Pictures”) that her son, the errant father, will one day return to hearth and home.
The play’s major slice-of-life theme seems to be a message of stoicism and practicality. The central characters are all emotive, warm concoctions and you soon sympathize with their personal dilemmas. Happily, Foote crafts plenty of witty one-liners (mostly spoken by sister Hallie as the French-Canadian) that prevent the play from overdosing on sentiment.
Aside from some clunky exposition in the second act, the major weakness of the play is that the stakes are not always high enough to sustain dramatic interest. We never learn enough about the man whose abandonment caused all of these problems, and the character-driven narrative could use more complexity.
Designer Linda Buchanan created an expansive and effective environment for the play, forging a realistic, oven-filled bakery nestled in a symbolic backdrop in which whimsical doodles suggest snow and wooden slats filled with light evoke a mountainous terrain.
The highpoint of Andrew Tsao’s competent but pastiche-heavy and overly fussy premiere production is a beautifully understated performance from Lindsay in the central role. The highly entertaining Hallie Foote provides the perfect comic foil to Lindsay’s quiet dramatic power. With the exception of the ill-at-ease Horton Foote, Jr., the supporting players are all very capable. If Daisy Foote’s next play can summon an engrossing plot to match her innate sense of mood and character, it will surely fan the sparks of attention already generated by “God’s Plenty.”