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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 24, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 08
Prepare expectations for Young Man from Atlanta
Arts & Entertainment
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Prepare expectations for Young Man from Atlanta

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

The Young Man from Atlanta
Stone Soup Theatre
Through March 10


Horton Foote was a prolific playwright and won the Pulitzer Prize for The Young Man from Atlanta in 1995. It's being produced by Stone Soup Theatre, though it's not clear from this presentation why the script deserved such an award. Sometimes, for this writer, it's not clear why awards are made for many scripts.

The Stone Soup technical support is particularly strong for this piece, with a lovely understated set by Suzi Tucker, appropriate costumes from John Clark, and subtle lighting, also by John Clark. The main actors - Gordon Coffey, Maggie Heffernan, and Michael Way - are older actors, which is a wonderful change from the vast majority of plays. They all do a good job with their roles.

The play appears like a straightforward, realistic family portrait: an older man (Coffey) is let go from a company he has given his life to and struggles to figure out how to handle his new status. But much more is involved in the script.

There is a recently deceased son, the only child, who walked into a lake and drowned. Yet the parents don't seem to know much about him or his state of mind. They know so little that mother Lily Dale (Maggie Heffernan) must contact the son's 'roommate' over and over and over to hear him talk about her son and tell her what he was like.

Then there is the surreal aspect that we never meet the 'young man from Atlanta,' we just hear about him. What we hear paints him as an opportunistic leech. The son has a box of checks worth $100,000 that are made out to the young man, Randy, and the parents don't know why.

The play was written in the 1990s, but it is about the 1950s. That was a time when homosexuality was hardly spoken about at all, so while the unmarried son dies at age 37, and has a 'roommate' and no female companionship, it still doesn't seem to occur to the parents that he might be Gay. It's likely that it does occur to most audience members.

But even that isn't a major element of the script. The mysterious 'young man' is more of a who-do-you-believe character. It's an exploration of taking someone's word for it. Another young man shows up claiming to be a relative of Pete Davenport (Way), Lily Dale's stepfather, who is also from the same Atlanta boarding house that the son and Randy lived at. He claims Randy is a liar, though this young man seems just as likely to be one as Randy is.

Both of these young men, you see, want money from the main characters. And these characters, older people who are desperate for connection and family, are the prime type to be taken in (even today) by scammers who know exactly how to pull those emotional strings.

Much of the pacing is too slow, and the supporting characters are mostly dispensable - an issue with the script, not the players. There is a lot of 'indicating' going on with the actors, instead of the kind of internalized feeling that we are more used to these days.

Certainly, it's a good choice, on paper, to produce a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. And for that reason, it's a good choice to go see it. Just temper your expectations, enjoy seeing older people on stage, and see what you think at the end of the evening.

For more information, to go www.stonesouptheatre.org or call 206-633-1883.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com.

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