Although Brother squanders his fortune, mismanages the farm, alienates his tenant farmers, is seen drunk all over town, and even commits murder, on stage he doesn’t have a hair out of place, presenting himself as a most genteel ne’er-do-well. The role begs for a rowdy, roguish drunk.
Broderick’s knee surgery two weeks before opening night produced a noticeable limp, but should not have prevented him from showing the character’s frustrations. A contrast would better complement Burstyn’s splendid blend of grief and worry over funeral planning and the family’s assets. Daughter Elizabeth Robedaux (Hallie Foote) and mother-in-law Corella Davenport (Polly Holliday) are sympathetic and supportive, but not able to help solve the Vaughn family’s problems. Holliday provides comic relief with verbal attacks on the compulsive reading and curiosity of her grandson Horace (Nicholas Shaw): “He won’t be able to take care of himself because he’ll be too educated.” Shaw, picked from a local elementary school, is adorable and inquisitive.
Although Horace Jr. gets little attention from his father (Ray Virta), the boy’s conversations with the family’s young, black nurse (Nikki Coleman Andrews) set up the dramatic impact of her accidental drowning. The nurse’s funeral provides the opportunity for one of the play’s many simple speeches about everyday family life.
Jeff Cowie’s set, dominated by a large tree, Michael Lincoln’s lighting and McKay Coble’s period costumes enhance the story’s mood. Although a play of greater depth might be expected of Foote, this cast, even with Broderick’s too low-key performance, makes the production worthwhile.