“Oh my God, that’s right—a year ago today!” Bill Heck eureka-ed back. That’s when the heretofore-unknown actor began his ascent into award-winning prominence via The Orphan’s Home Cycle, Horton Foote’s nine-play country cavalcade about tough times in Texas during the early part of the 20th century.
Most of these tough times are weathered by one Horace Robedaux (read: Foote’s father), and Heck played this part in seven of the nine plays as well as Horace’s dying father in Installment One. “Bill was living in L.A. — under a rock somewhere — and we got him to put himself on tape,” recalled Wilson, “and the minute we saw his audition tape, we were, like, ‘What! Get this young man on the next plane!”
The timing was not all that great for Heck. “I’d been in New York for six years before that,” he noted, “then I moved out there for TV work and got the call to come back.”
The resulting performance won him nominations for Outstanding Actor in a Play from both the Outer Critics Circle and the Drama Desk. It also won him two actual awards — the Theatre World Award and Actors’ Equity’s Clarence Derwent Award, the first for “most promising male performer” and the other for “outstanding debut.”
The piece premiered last fall at Wilson’s Hartford Stage, then transferred to New York’s Signature Theatre. The game plan is to continue the march to Broadway.
Heck has since moved on — to summering in Central Park as Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice and a Sicilian lord in The Winter’s Tale — but on July 13 he returns to Signature to start rehearsing Angels in America. His Joe Pitt role — a married, deeply closeted gay Mormon — is a long way from Horace Robedaux.
— Harry Haun