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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 19, 2010

'Lily' reading a door to greater 'Orphans'

Special to The Advertiser


2 p.m. Sunday and May 30

Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter

438-4480, www.armytheatre.com

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Army Community Theatre's readers theater ends its season devoted to Horton Foote with "Lily Dale," the third in his epic "Orphans Home Cycle" nine plays set in small-town Texas over a span of roughly 30 years.

It's a quiet play with a languid first act that has its audience looking for clues to uncover what its characters are not saying. Their truth lies below the surface in a subsoil that they would never explore or articulate, given the country manners of 1909.

The central character is Horace Robedaux (Seth Lilley), an excruciatingly polite 19-year-old who borrows $2 from his mother for train fare to visit her in Houston. Horace has vague hopes of living with her and his younger sister, but his mother's new husband is a rough railroad worker who orders him out of the house after he arrives.

Like Tennessee Williams' Blanche in "A Streetcar Named Desire," Horace collapses. His mother believes him to have malaria. Her husband calls it faking. His sister is too absorbed in piano music and a new boyfriend to feel much more than inconvenience.

But Horace's breakdown puts him into a two-week delirium and leaves him too weak to walk. As he struggles to find his legs, he also struggles to find a past and family relationships that never existed. When he finally boards a return train, it is with an acute awareness of the fragile and tenuous existence of the people he leaves behind.

In a fully mounted production the necessary subtext would come from the nonverbal staging and the actors' physical interpretation. It's a tougher challenge in a reading, but the ACT cast gives it their best.

Horace spends much of Act Two slumped in a chair or struggling to leave it, but the source of his weakness is not fully explored. It's not clear how much of his raving is clouded by nervous breakdown and how much is genuine truth.

As the mother, Victoria Gail-White is poised on the difficult line between her first failed marriage and her second, loveless union. Reading the role of sister Lily Dale, Angie Niermann delivers a character that is willingly naive and self-centered. As a pair, the two women are close dramatic cousins to the vulnerable mother and daughter in another Williams play, "The Glass Menagerie."

Non-family members are made of simpler, more robust stock. John Wythe White reads the gruff husband and Jim Niermann is the optimistic boyfriend. Jo Pruden makes two short appearances as a proselytizing train passenger.

"Lily Dale" isn't a great play, but it opens the door to "The Orphans Home Cycle," which would make a complete season in itself.