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Learning to Act in Horton Foote's Plays

Date: Aug 15, 2012


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Welcome to Building Character: TDF Stages' ongoing series about actors and how they create their roles


We don't know much about Andrea Lynn Green's characters in Harrison, TX but at the same time, we know plenty.

The show, which Primary Stages is presenting at 59E59, collects three crackerjack short plays by Horton Foote. Beyond their Texas setting, though, they're nothing alike. "Blind Date" is a comedy of manners about a teenage girl who refuses to be polite to her suitors; "The One-Armed Man" is a dark fable about a working stiff confronting his callous boss; and "The Midnight Caller" is a quietly devastating tale of a lover who harasses a boarding house, shouting for his ex.

All three plays have the power of a great short story: They sketch just enough detail to stoke our imaginations, and they enhance the traits of their genres---farcical jokes, metaphoric language---to heighten their impact.

For the cast, however, this makes Harrison, TX especially demanding. Most of the actors appear in multiple plays, so they not only have to develop full, rich performances in just a few minutes, but also have to do it twice, in two different styles. The choices they make for the comedy won't necessarily work for the tender romance.

"It really challenges you," says Green, who plays Sarah Nancy, the bratty teenager in "Blind Date," and "Cutie" Spencer, one of the boarders in "The Midnight Caller."

In "Blind Date," for instance, we never learn why Sarah Jane is so hateful to the young men in town. But Green can't be vague on stage. Every dirty look and sassy comment has to seem grounded.

"There are clues in the script, as much as she's this doleful, strange girl," says the actress. "There's part of her that's aching to come out and see what it's like to be on a beauty page, the be the kind of girl that gets on a beauty page, and that kind of juxtaposition within herself is what I've been figuring out. In rehearsals, those were the kinds of things I had to remind myself of: 'What does she really want? What is she protecting herself with?'"

In early performances, Green has also learned to trust the broad comedy in Foote's writing. In one moment, Sarah Jane spitefully says she hates dancing, and when Green hits that line forcefully, it prepares the audience to laugh a few minutes later, when an awkward boy tries to dance with her in her aunt's living room.

"It's a lot about setup, and that's something I'm figuring out with 'Blind Date' and this style of comedy," Green says. "You really need that setup in order to land that actual meaning in the story and where it's going. Everything gets illuminated so much more, once all the pieces are in place."

On the other hand, Green has to navigate gentle heartbreak in "The Midnight Caller." Despite her perky name, "Cutie" is a sad young woman, and she also delivers a lot of exposition about the rest of the characters. Green works to make the exposition interesting by investing it with a sense of how Cutie sees the world. If she explains a character's history with a sense of desperate cheeriness, for instance, then we learn a little about why Cutie needs to gossip.

"It's a huge clue that her name is 'Cutie,'" Green says. "She's one of those people that no one entirely takes seriously. She'll always be a cutie. Until she's an old lady, she'll always be a little baby."

As she continues to navigate the plays, Green enjoys the chance to push herself in two distinctly different directions. "It lets you work on those muscles that have been waiting for you to work on them," she says. "It's there on the page, and you just have to pay attention."


Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor

Pictured: Andrea Lynn Green (left) and Jayne Houdyshell in "The Midnight Caller." Photo by James Leynse