Playwright Horton Foote’s The Traveling Lady premiered on Broadway in October of 1954. Although it ran less than a month and is not one of his better known works, its’ depiction of complex connection and longing remains-63 years later–deeply profound and insightful in Director Austin Pendleton’s latest Off-Broadway production at the Cherry Lane Theatre.
Further uptown, playwright Martyna Majok is also exposing our innate craving for connection in Manhattan Theater Club’s Cost of Living. Though the latter is a brand new work (it premiered last year at the Williamstown Theater Festival), and both are set in completely different time periods, the major message of each play is the same: Like it or not, human relationships are a necessity.
It’s a simple idea in theory, but as evidenced in these works and in life itself, the execution is often an ongoing, grueling feat. And yet, we inevitably find ourselves going back for more, exposing our hearts to the repetitive cycle of hope, heartache, and redemption.
Foote’s southern drama is set in a small Texas town in 1950. Georgette Thomas and her daughter (Jean Lichty) have been drifting from town to town in search of Henry, Georgette’s husband (PJ Sosko). Henry has been in and out of the jail system for alcohol-related offenses, but has recently cleaned up his act. Judge Robedaux (George Morfogen), directs the pair to the home of Clara Breedlove (Angelina Fiordelli), who offers them typical southern hospitality and old time religion. Clara’s brother, Slim (Larry Bull) is also on hand, primarily to throw a splash of potential romance to the mix. Binding the town together is the ornery Mrs. Mavis (Lynn Cohen), a Texas version of Sophia Petrillo, the fictitious sassy character from TV’s The Golden Girls. Rounding out the cast is stage favorite Karen Ziemba, who cares for her cantankerous mother.
Foote has always been a master of character development. While our normal tendency is to rush judgment at the actions or inactions of our fellow humans, he allows us to pause and consider their struggles and wishes. It’s one of the many beautiful aspects of his work. Pendleton and his cast understand the subtle nuances that Foote’s characters possess, gently ushering his audience to a sensitive place of empathy and pathos.
Harry Feiner’s period appropriate set and lighting whisks us back in time-not necessarily to a simpler time but to a time when the answer to life’s problems were not found through google, but rather through cups of coffee and tight community.
Majok’s characters in Cost of Living are much grittier and rougher around the edges than what you’ll see in The Traveling Lady but in a way, it makes their losses and challenges even more compelling and heart rending.
Bayonne, New Jersey is the specific location for this four person drama about fragile people fixing other fractured souls. It opens with Eddie (Victor Williams), an out of work truck driver who is reminiscing about his days on the road, prior to his DUI. He’s also recalling the memory of his wife Ani (Katy Sullivan), an above knee amputee whose disability forces her to rely on Eddie. Eddie is good natured with a strong capacity to endure Ani’s bone dry sarcasm and insults.
Meanwhile, Jess (Jolly Abraham) is pulling double duty as a cocktail waitress, while caring for John (Gregg Mozgala) an affluent, ivy-league educated bachelor with cerebral palsy.
Majok’s script is as brisk and snappy as a professional tennis match, but thanks to Jo Bonney’s perceptive direction there are quiet, intimate moments here to savor and contemplate.
At one point, Ani tells Eddie that her physical therapist suggests music as homework. “When music plays, the body goes looking for the things it’s missing. The broken things. The shit that’s disconnected. And it tries to bring everything back together. Like it used to be. Back in order. Order like…music.”
It’s a keen observation. Amidst the noise and chaos of everyday life, our reliance upon others is the only symphony we’ve got.
The Traveling Lady is now playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through July 30th. For tickets and information, click here.
Cost of Living is now playing at New York City Center’s Stage 1 (131 West 55th Street) through July 16th. For tickets and information, click here.