Review: Daisy Foote's 'Him' is a poignant drama

Associated Press
This theater image released by Keith Sherman & Associates shows Hallie Foote, left, and Tim Hopper in a scene from Daisy Foote’s play, "Him," currently performing off-Broadway at Primary Stages in New York.  (AP Photo/Keith Sherman & Associates, James Leynse)
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This theater image released by Keith Sherman & Associates shows Hallie Foote, left, and Tim Hopper in a scene from Daisy Foote’s play, "Him," currently performing off-Broadway at Primary Stages in New York. (AP Photo/Keith Sherman & Associates, James Leynse)

NEW YORK (AP) — Family secrets suddenly exposed to the light can make or break the younger generation.

The unnamed, secretive and misanthropic father in Daisy Foote's unflinching new play, 'Him,' is well aware that his middle-age children dislike and fear him. He's always been cold toward them, yet rules their lives and expects them to respect his dying wishes.

Foote's thoughtful examination of a dysfunctional New England family opened Tuesday night off-Broadway at Primary Stages, in a well-acted production directed by Evan Yionoulis.

Foote, daughter of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Horton Foote, has woven touches of humor into her domestic tapestry that illustrates how secrecy and introversion can work against a man and his family.

Set in 2003, the adult Randolph children are facing grave fiscal danger in their New Hampshire town. Their financial mainstay, the store adjacent to their home, has fallen into decline, there's no money in the bank and their autocratic patriarch, referred to only as "him," is now bedridden following a stroke.

This controlling and uncommunicative father, never seen onstage, comes to life for the audience through his writings. The actors portraying the children give voice to intermittent, spot-lit monologues from their reticent father's secret journals.

Foote skillfully mixes everyday events with long-ago journal entries that often surprise, adding emotional layers to this family's history and exposing much that they don't know about one another.

The playwright's sister, Hallie Foote, is expressively brisk and flinty as 50-something spinster Pauline, who runs the household and tries to manage what's left of the budget. Foote's strident enactment of Pauline is fittingly no-nonsense, but she softens the character's hard edges with girlish moments, an occasionally wistful air and affectionate ways with Pauline's younger brother Henry.

Tim Hopper plays 45-year-old Henry, who's gay and still looking for love in all the wrong places. Hopper skillfully renders him as kindly, yearning and quite likable. Pauline, who raised her brothers after her loving mother died when they were young, despises her father for his lifetime of emotional absence.

The two also supervise their middle brother, Farly, 53, who is mentally "slow." as Pauline puts it. Adam LeFevre gives an outstanding performance in this role, creating an appealing characterization to Farley and imbuing him with the childlike enthusiasm of a young teenager. Adina Verson rounds out the cast with a lively if somewhat over-acted performance as Louise, a young neighbor who's conveniently also "slow."

Yionoulis provides a thoughtful pace, allowing time for important silences or glances. Most impactful are the hushed readings from the father's often-poetic journal entries, written over the previous five decades and filled with emotions he could never share with anyone. He repeatedly described his love for the mountainside woods where, unknown to his family, he retreated almost nightly and found contentment in nature, among the woodland creatures.

Playwright Foote provides plenty of ironic twists, such as when Pauline suddenly approves of her father's mean-spirited ways when they might benefit her at long last. Foote provides a too-pat disposal of an obstacle that threatens Pauline's new plans, but her story of one family's secrets, economic struggles and communication problems is a poignant tale.

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