For Will Kidder, questions surrounding the death of his only son pale in comparison to the questions surrounding his life. The Young Man from Atlanta may have more answers than he is willing to hear. We never meet him on stage but the secret he represents is obvious to the audience of Uptown Players in their contribution to the Horton Foote Festival. Roommate to the Kidder’s only son, he is solace to Lily Dale and sorrow to Will. Horton Foote leaves us unsatisfied as to the real relationship between the men because of Will’s stubborn desire to remember his son as he wants. In the end, the play raises more questions than it answers about the questions that we ask, never wanting the answer.
After sinking all of his money into a dream house, Will Kidder gets replaced by his protégé. Characters like him make familiar fodder for the wheels of capitalism and playwrights alike. Though financially this Will is the opposite of Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman, he is defined and dismissed by the same engine. To wind the works tighter, Foote dulls his drive with a weak heart and breaks his bank with a weaker wife, Lily Dale: the money he has given her over the years for Christmas gifts isn’t available as a safety net. She’s given most of it away to the same person his dead son gave all his money to: The Young Man from Atlanta.
Andy Redmon uses the Kalita Humphreys revolve to switch between Will’s office and the 1950s dream home. The office is period specific. The house has a little mid-mod Mad Men swagger only with less taste and a blueprint in place of the wall-to-wall carpeting. Director Marianne Galloway leaves the actors marooned in the long and low of the Texas ranch as they ponder the information delivered into the room.
People talk for periods of such length that the listener becomes more compelling than the speaker. The fact that they don’t move speaks volumes; they don’t get closer or farther for all their talk. At the end of the play when the Kidders are on the couch in an embrace of grief, Director Galloway’s use of space pays off. Will and Lily Dale are finally really together.
T.A. Taylor puts on a predictably reliable show, driving Kidder like an American-made, late model luxury car. His Kidder comes from a time when status and power were more important than grace and agility. Step it and steer it, as they say. Lily Dale, as interpreted by Lucia Welch, is lonely and spoiled, unable to speak for herself at several turns. Her pain at the mystery of their son’s loss is less palpable than Taylor’s. Perhaps because his is accompanied with loss of health and job, she has less far to fall. In any case, there is more to laugh at than pity in her Lily Dale.
Living with the Kidders is Lily Dale’s stepfather Pete. He serves as the third wheel, witnessing the realizations of generosity gone awry. Meanwhile on the scene arrives by happenstance his grand-nephew Carson, played by Blake Blair. Carson just so happens to have lived in the same house as the Kidder’s deceased son Bill and the Young Man. He tells a different story about them than we’ve heard so far. By the end of the play, Pete is so taken with Carson that he is lending him money. The tension mounts as the audience doesn’t know who to believe.
In the house of modern convenience is the ubiquitous black maid played handily by Yolanda Williams, but her assured comic timing seems out of place in the production. More compelling is Tippi Hunter’s Etta Doris, the Kidder’s former maid who returns to visit her former employers having learned of their loss. She brings their past onstage most effectively of all the devices employed by Foote to keep the action in this living room.
More things don’t happen than do in this play and the action is in how the actors react and the characters resolve to muscle on. The war is won or lost in the nuance. Some parts go better than others but in total, Uptown Players can be proud with their Foote up.
◊ The Young Man From Atlanta is part of the area-wide Horton Foote Festival. Read more about it and see a schedule of events here, which we'll keep updating with links to our reviews.