The Orphans’ Home Cycle Part 3: The Story of a Family
All good things must come to an end, as we are reminded poignantly in the third installment of Horton Foote’s The Orphans’ Home Cycle.” Part Three, “The Story of a Family,” touches upon the bittersweet cycles of life and death that inevitably touch upon even the happiest of marriages and families.
The orphan in mention here is Horace Robedaux, whom we last saw happily married to Elizabeth and expecting his first child. The third and last installment of the series of plays is darker and more serious, and, thanks to truly excellent acting from a superb ensemble, even more touching and powerful.
Opening with a somber scene of a funeral, rain pouring on the attendants, the play quickly informs the audience that a deadly flu is sweeping the town, killing numerous people every day. Death isn’t glossed over in this play; instead, the passing of one character in particular is depicted with such simple honesty it is almost painful to watch.
But life – and family – go on, as the play quickly shows us. The second of the three short plays, “Cousins,” is an amusing portrayal of how helpful, and difficult, family members can be, as well as a touching reminder of how desperately the people of that time clung to their family. With deathly viruses and a brutal war just behind them, their need for connection with others, regardless of their eccentricities, is palpable.
The cycle concludes with “The Death of Papa,” a bittersweet portrait of a small family adjusting to an enormous loss. It also brings to Elizabeth’s brother’s troubles, which had been ominously foreshadowed in the earlier plays, to the forefront. In a truly touching performance, Bryce Pinkham accomplishes the almost Herculean task of making a narcissistic, gambling alcoholic sympathetic. Also impressive are Hallie Foote and James DeMarse’s turns as Elizabeth’s parents as they struggle with how to handle their son’s behavior as well as their own affection for Horace.
Understated, but remarkable, performances abound on the stage, especially in Maggie Lacey as Elizabeth. Her quietly unwavering support of her husband, as well as her steely, but still feminine determination, is truly wonderful to watch. And Bill Heck’s Horace, who was impressive in the second play, exceeds all expectations in the third. Stoic and withdrawn, yet still affectionate and loving, Horace personifies human resilience against all odds. An orphan who now has a family, a self-made business man, struggling but still refusing to accept any handouts, Horace is an admirable character and worthy of even more attention than the nine hours already devoted to him. And thanks to his carefully controlled demeanor, when he does boil over, it is even more powerful to view.
Horace’s sister, Lily Dale, is amusingly portrayed by Jenny Dare Palin, and Annalee Jefferies’ performance as Horace’s mother raises many questions one wishes were answered. Virginia Kull returns as Mary, Elizabeth’s friend, and also plays Horace’s Cousin Minnie in a brief, but powerful, performance.
Summarizing the plot of this, or any of the Cycle’s plays, may sound dull to some or even inspire the question of why one would go to the theater to watch events that happen in every family, every day of the year. And during troubled economic times, why would someone seek out entertainment that is sorrowful? The answer is that these aren’t ordinary, everyday people onstage. They are remarkable. And even after three plays, they leave you wanting more.
“A family is a remarkable thing, isn’t it?” Cousin Minnie remarks during the show. And yes, this family is.