The Orphans’ Home Cycle Part 2: The Story of a Marriage
“Home is where you hang your hat,” Ruth L. Yorck, wrote in 1948. It’s also been said that “home is where your heart is.” Countless statements have been made, films have been shot and books have been written about home, the elusive place where one is always comfortable and safe. The second installation of The Orphans’ Home Cycle by Horton Foote continues to explore the idea of home and one man’s endless, possibly fruitless, search for it.
“The Story of a Marriage” continues telling the story of Horace, played by Bill Heck, who lost his home when he was 12. Beginning when he is 22, the play details three events in his life: an evening with the Widow Claire, the courtship of Elizabeth Vaughn and the Christmas and Valentine’s Day following his marriage to her. Simply written and exquisitely acted, this production is a bittersweet delight, an intoxicating cocktail of melancholy resignation and hope.
“The Widow Claire” is the first of the three acts, depicting an evening Horace spends in the company of the beautiful Claire (Virginia Kull), the widowed mother of two children (Emily Robinson and Dylan Riley Snyder, both precociously precious). Unapologetically flirtatious, Claire makes no secret, nor is she ashamed, of the fact she is being courted by more than one man. And while it is apparent that Horace longs for her exclusive affection, he doesn’t seem to have a problem with her seeing other men – until he catches wind of the rumor that one of the other men hits Claire. Widowed for a year, Claire now is deciding which of the men to marry. She briefly toys with the idea of refusing all of the proposals made to her, but that idea is quickly rejected, much to the dismay of several men in the cast. At the age of 22, Horace is six years younger than Claire, and has neither steady job or a home, much to his distress. Tangibly, he has little to offer her, but the chemistry between the two is appealing, as are the several times they dance together during the show.
“Courtship” begins six years later, on the front porch of a palatial family home, as Elizabeth Vaughn ponders the questions of life and love with her wide-eyed younger sister Laura (Jenny Dare Paulin). Elizabeth, played with a delicate determination by Maggie Lacey and Laura, are watched with a stern eye by their father (James DeMarse) and mother (Hallie Foote, the playwright’s daughter). Elizabeth is being courted, carefully by Horace, to the chagrin of her father, who thinks a traveling salesman isn’t good enough for his daughter. She has also just received news that the first man she dated was killed, and a scandal regarding one of her friends has rocked her small community, causing her to wistfully question her feelings for Horace and wonder about the nature and knowledge of love. Her questions are timeless and there is no doubt every member of the audience has asked themselves the same things at some point during their lives. The juxtaposition of youth and age also resonates strongly, as Elizabeth and Laura’s conversation is interspersed with their aged aunts, who treat a family member’s life or death as lightly and quickly as they would a report on the weather. It is touching and humorous, sweet and bitter, all at the same time.
“Valentine’s Day” answers the question of whether Elizabeth and Horace will marry, and the answer, unsurprisingly, is yes. They elope and set up a home estranged from her parents until a reconciliation takes place on Christmas Day. This is the most poignant act of the three as the characters ponder the inevitable questions that come with any relationship and come tenfold with a marriage. Will I always love him? Will I love him as much 50 years from now as I did the day I married him? What if he dies? What if I die? What really makes someone happy? What will really make me happy? The questions continue long after the curtain falls, but something else remains with the questions: a feeling of peace and contentment and, above all else, simplicity.