Friends and Family

Horton Foote's Young Man from Atlanta makes a memorable trip to Houston

Ralph Waite, best known as John Walton of TV's The Waltons, is both hardy and heartbreaking as Will. Resolute and yet fearful of losing his spirit, Waite's Will doesn't want to give in to his feelings of rage and sorrow, but he can't help himself. Waite makes this paragon of sturdy, patriarchal stock straddle all that desperation entails.

As Lily Dale, Carlin Glynn -- whose career began at the Alley nearly 40 years ago -- effects a tone of melancholy loneliness so pervasive that, in her own way, the character matches her husband's sputtering strength. Insistent upon adhering to decorum, she nevertheless asserts herself, not so much wallowing in her neediness as laying claim to it. Glynn's Lily Dale isn't gullible when it comes to the youth from Atlanta; she's guileless when it comes to everything.

Director Peter Masterson, a favorite interpreter of Foote, knows how to get the proper inflection into Foote's deceptively simple idiom and how to elicit acting of intimate subtlety. He establishes tranquillity only to disrupt it, and then smoothes things out again before bringing on the next ripple. Helping Foote go beyond genre theater, he locates what's universal about the local; he's as honest, circumspect and compassionate in his direction as Foote is in his writing.

A word must be said about scenic designer E. David Cosier. His sparsely furnished living room of demure yellow walls and muted green floor suggests a decorous emptiness akin to that found in the characters. The stage is raked, reinforcing the steep climb the characters have to make at virtually every juncture. "There is," Will says at one point, "no finer house in Houston." For all involved at the Alley, how true.

The Young Man From Atlanta plays through March 16 at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue, 228-8421.

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