You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Carpetbagger’s Children

When Horton Foote's latest work premiered at Houston's Alley Theater in June, it proved a literal washout: Tropical storm Allison swept in, leaving the Alley partially submerged. To judge from that production, Allison may have been trying to make a point. Foote's memory play, though not void of possibility, remains too flimsily built to float.

Cornelia - Roberta Maxwell Grace Anne - Jean Stapleton Sissie - Hallie Foote

When Horton Foote’s latest work premiered at Houston’s Alley Theater in June, it proved a literal washout: Tropical storm Allison swept through town, leaving the Alley partially submerged. To judge from that production, which is stopping in Minneapolis en route to Hartford, Conn., Allison may have been trying to make a point. Foote’s memory play, though not void of possibility, remains too flimsily built to float.

Structured as a series of monologues delivered to no one in particular, the work (calling it a play would seem to presume some minimal onstage activity) concerns three aged sisters living in the familiar Foote territory of a small Texas town. They are the daughters of the titular carpetbagger, and, as such, have inherited a large, ill-gotten plantation. They each suffer the sins of their imperious father: One is a disinherited prodigal, another a dazed naif, the third a lovelorn spinster.

For reasons never made entirely clear, the sisters are compelled to divulge their entire family history, replete with endless prattling about clothes and food and money. As characters, they may actually ring too true: Listening to this deluge is like being cornered by your least favorite aunt in triplicate.

This production’s director, Michael Wilson — who recently moved from the Alley to become artistic director of the Hartford Stage Co. — follows the playwright’s undramatic bent, leaving the stage empty but for the actors and some furniture. Like Foote’s writing, the staging strips away all artifice.

The problem, though, is that there’s nothing underneath to hold the play up — it’s a blob of character without a dramatic skeleton.

“The Carpetbagger’s Children” is modeled after Chekhov’s “Three Sisters,” and the theme is superficially similar (the frustrations and impacted desires of provincial life). But Chekhov made his arguments about vanity and survival manifest onstage. It may not matter if his three sisters make it to Moscow or the Ranevskys manage to keep their cherry orchard; their struggle endures. Foote, in contrast, gives no sense that anything is at stake; we’re never sure what these women want, and so never sure of what they’ve lost.

Absent any narrative thrust, it’s up to the high-profile cast to give “The Carpetbagger’s Children” a shove. Jean Stapleton has a winning earthiness, but her role, as the prodigal daughter, offers only intermittent opportunity to display her comic gifts. Roberta Maxwell as the faithful Cornelia fares worse, stumbling over lines she’s been delivering for two months. If this is an affectation, it’s particularly ill-suited to the play’s naturalism; people generally don’t forget what they’re saying when they’re chatting about themselves.

Only Hallie Foote, as Sissie, the “baby” of the brood, seems to be at home inside her character (the playwright’s daughter, she’s also the best of the trio in managing the Texas accent). Yet the play’s aimlessness also seems to sabotage her performance: Just when Sissie is getting interesting, she’s abruptly killed. It’s indicative of the whole exercise: “The Carpetbagger’s Children” may sound like life, but, as drama, it’s dead in the water.

The Carpetbagger's Children

Guthrie Lab, Minneapolis; 400 Seats; $30 Top

Production: A Guthrie Lab presentation, with the Alley Theater and Hartford Stage Co., of a play in one act by Horton Foote. Directed by Michael Wilson.

Creative: Sets, Jeff Cowie; costumes, David Woolard; lighting, Rui Rita; sound, John Gromada; stage manager, Amy Knotts. Opened, reviewed Aug. 8, 2001. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: Cornelia - Roberta Maxwell Grace Anne - Jean Stapleton Sissie - Hallie Foote

More Legit

  • Hamilton West End Production.

    'Hamilton' Panic Over Mistaken Reports of Gunfire Injures Three in San Francisco

    Three people were injured after mistaken reports of an active shooter at a San Francisco production of “Hamilton” caused attendees to flee the theater. CNN reported that a woman experienced a medical emergency — later determined to be a heart attack — during a scene in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play wherein Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is shot on [...]

  • The American Clock review

    London Theater Review: 'The American Clock'

    Time is money. Money is time. Both come unstuck in “The American Clock.” Arthur Miller’s kaleidoscopic account of the Great Depression, part autobiography, part social history, crawls through the decade after the Wall Street crash, dishing up snapshots of daily life. In the Old Vic’s classy revival, director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) tunes into the play’s [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Off Broadway Review: Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sea Wall/A Life'

    Comfy? Okay, let’s talk Death: sudden death, painful death, lingering death, accidental death, and whatever other kinds of death happen to come into the receptive minds of playwrights Simon Stephens (“Sea Wall”) and Nick Payne (“A Life”). The writing in these separate monologues — playing together on a double bill at the Public Theater — [...]

  • Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    With an HBO documentary that places strong allegations of abuse against Michael Jackson premiering in two weeks, the late singer’s estate announced Thursday that it’s canceling a scheduled Chicago test run of a jukebox musical about him. The estate and its producing partner in the musical, Columbia Live Stage, said that they’re setting their sights on going [...]

  • All About Eve review

    West End Review: Gillian Anderson and Lily James in 'All About Eve'

    To adapt a crass old adage: it’s “All About Eve,” not “All About Steve.” Stripping Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s sharp-witted screenplay about a waning theater star of its period trappings, Ivo van Hove’s stage adaptation fine-tunes its feminism for our own sexist age — image-obsessed, anti-aging, the time of Time’s Up. Rather than blaming Lily James’ [...]

  • Adam Shankman

    Listen: Why Adam Shankman Directs Every Movie Like It's a Musical

    Director Adam Shankman’s latest movie, the Taraji P. Henson comedy “What Men Want,” isn’t a musical. But as one of Hollywood’s top director-choreographers of musicals and musical sequences, he approaches even non-musicals with a sense of tempo. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “When I read a script, it processes in my head like a [...]

  • Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella'

    How much can you change “Cinderella” before it is no longer “Cinderella”? In the case of choreography maestro Matthew Bourne — who, it should be said, first unveiled his spin on the classic folk tale some 22 years ago — the music is most certainly “Cinderella” (Prokofiev’s 1945 score, to be exact), but the plot [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content