Visual Arts

The Old Friends, Horton Foote's Most Outrageous Play, Starts the Alley Season

There's the usual rivalries and gothic relationships between families and friends. Yet the characters are more jet-set swingers than salt of the earth - even when they call the fictional town of Harrison, Texas home. Or so it seems.

Acclaimed playwright Horton Foote (Trip to Bountiful, The Young Man From Atlanta, Orphans Home Cycle, Dividing the Estate) was venturing pretty far afield from his usual work when he did The Old Friends. It's the story of what occurs when Sibyl Borden (Hallie Foote, the playwright's daughter) returns home and creates a domino effect that uncovers long hidden secrets and longings.

"This is one of Horton's least known works he started writing in '60s at a time when he and Tennessee [Williams] and Edward Albe were all experimenting with the bounds of outrageousness in storytelling and creating characters and Horton really went out on a limb with this one in terms of the depiction of sexual antics and drinking parties and he still hewed to his own distinctive style and has a very beautiful spiritual end to the play," said Michael Wilson who is back once again to direct a Horton Foote play at the Alley.

Wilson has long been the premier director attached to Foote's work and said Foote had wanted to mount the production 15 years ago. It wasn't until last year at Signature Theatre in New York that Wilson was able to make that a reality and received positive reviews.

Wilson said he and Alley Artistic Director Gregory Boyd wanted to do the play as a co-production when Wilson was with Hartford Stage but the timing never worked out till now, when the regional premiere it will become the opening play of the 2014-15 Alley season at its temporary home at the University of Houston.

"Horton always thought this could be one of his major works. He knew that he was going to surprise people, perhaps shock some others and he was eager to have the play out there, Wilson said.

Wilson said the two-hour, two act play is "really funny. The darkness and meanness of this people is so out there and real that it's funny. Although at a certain point it becomes not funny," Wilson said.

Besides Hallie Foote, the standout cast includes Betty Buckley and Cotter Smith as well as company members Jeffrey Bean and Jay Sullivan.

The Old Friends opens Wednesday, August 20, and runs through September 7 at the University of Houston's Wortham Theatre, 4116 Elgin Street, just off Cullen Boulevard on the main campus. For information call 713-220-5700 or visit

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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