On the Road

On the Road "The Young Man From Atlanta"

The prestigious 1994 Pulitzer Prize for drama went to Horton Foote and "The Young Man from Atlanta," which had been presented in January at the tiny Off-Off-Broadway house, the Signature Theatre Company, which had devoted an entire season to the plays of the graying eminence of playwrights. The Pulitzer, obviously, helped to raise the profile of the domestic drama that had been praised as "one of Foote's most serious and scathing works."

Consequently, it's now Broadway bound, with stops at Boston's Huntington Theatre (through Nov. 19) and Houston's Alley (Feb. 16-Mar. 16) before reaching New York in April.

"I was pleased," says Foote of winning the Pulitzer with an understatement and modesty that also characterizes his work. "But I was also touched and gratified by having a whole season of my plays presented at the Signature."

"Young Man from Atlanta" deals with the Kidder family, who has figured in many of Horton's other plays, this time out in a Houston setting in the year 1950. Lily Dale and Will, in their sixties, are trying to come to terms with the apparent suicide of their only son, though the mother is eager to believe it was a freak accident. The grieving process is complicated by the arrival of a handsome young stranger (whom we never meet) but who is key to the denial and self-delusion that surround the sad couple and their tragic son.

The play had been developed in readings at Houston's Alley Theatre, where it was directed by Peter Masterson who had also helmed Foote's best-known triumph, the film, "Trip to Bountiful," which won Oscars not only for Foote but also for its star, Geraldine Page. When the Signature picked up the "Young Man," actors Ralph Waite and Carlin Glynn became involved, and they will re-create in this new production the roles they played last January. "I was very pleased with that production, so there have been very few changes since then," says Foote. "What is essential is to create and maintain a very different sensibility, a different social climate that existed then."

Referring to the intimation that the son had been gay and had been involved with "the young man from Atlanta," Foote adds, "I don't even know if one would use the word, `gay' then."

But, says Foote, what is more important is the timeless theme of people who refuse to face up to the truth about themselves and their families.

"I'm an observer," says the playwright, who has written more than 50 dramas. "I don't really take positions, but I certainly think that openness--about anything--is better than not facing things. We are more open now, certainly, but we haven't shed entirely our desire to face away from some pretty harsh truths."

-- By Patrick Pacheco