Aidan Quinn Photo: Monique
Man From Atlanta
By Fern Siegel
in the post-WWII years enjoyed a booming American economy. Business was brisk,
the stock market soared and returning veterans were the recipients of
Kidder family is no exception. It’s 1950, and Will Kidder (Aiden Quinn) is a
successful salesman, employed for nearly 40 years by the Sunshine Southern
Wholesale Grocery. Will is cast in the American booster tradition; he believes
hard work and a competitive spirit will carry the day.
wife, Lily Dale Kidder (Kristine Nielsen), has lived a privileged life in
Houston, thanks to her husband’s work ethic. But behind the curtains of their
expensive new home (“the biggest and the best”), lay sadness, despair and
and Lily Dale, who have appeared in earlier Horton Foote plays, reappear in the
revival of Young Man From Atlanta, now at the Signature Theater Center.
And it isn’t a happy reunion. Foote explores the dark side of the American
Dream, as well as the lies we tell ourselves in order to survive.
are changing, and 61-year-old Will has not kept pace. He’s forced to reckon
with the boss’ son Ted (Devon Abner), eager to promote younger men like Tom
(Dan Bittner), Will’s protégé. That’s a bitter blow to Will who needs to work,
even if his colleagues wish for his retirement.
generation gap — and the cruelty of ending someone’s career prematurely — is
heartbreaking to watch. Experience and loyalty are not valued commodities. The
fruit company would rather show Bill the door than teach him to adapt. Here,
youth and technical expertise are championed over all other virtues.
if that isn’t insult enough, Will and his semi-ditzy wife contend with a
private tragedy: the death of their 37-year-old Bill. (She has a wacky theory
that Mrs. Roosevelt organized Houston’s maids into a club to disappoint their white
employers.) And here’s where Young Man From Atlanta careens into murkier
terrain. Six months ago, their son Bill walked into the ocean and drowned.
suicide is apparent to all — except his mother. So she turns to Randy, the
unseen man of the play’s title, for solace.
roommate in their Atlanta boarding house — and despite subtle
hints, their relationship is never explicitly stated. What we do learn is that
Lily Dale finds the young man a comfort, while Will sees him as a con artist
and parasite. The big issue is money, which Randy needs and Lily has. Will
needs it, too — which ups his exasperation at discovering his wife’s profligate
attitude toward a stranger as he endures a life of not-so-quiet desperation.
the real stranger is within. Did the Kidders ever know their son? Do they know
each other? Do they understand the world they inhabit?
Aidan Quinn, Kristine Nielsen
and Stephen Payne Photo by Monique Carboni
fictional Harrison, Texas — and neighboring Houston — as a metaphor for the
world at large. He employs the Kidders and their extended friends, colleagues
and family to explore larger themes of identity, ageism, privilege and grief.
Clara, the Kidder’s longtime housekeeper (Harriet D. Foy), has a practical kindness;
Ted can only muster inchoate stabs at understanding.
plays Will for all he’s worth, with brutal honesty. He’s an angry, blustering
man, but it’s hard not to feel sympathy for anyone who loses control of his
life. Nielsen, often cast in comedic turns, utilizes the same facial tics in
all her roles to indicate disbelief or confusion. It may be humorous the first
time, but it wears thin. Her mood swings are as frequent as her eye rolls.
gullible character, a mother longing to be reassured despite the facts, rings
true. So does Lily Dale’s insensitivity to others, noted in a brief scene with
an elderly former maid. The ensemble cast is sound, and Michael Wilson’s
direction is smooth. Foote is a subtle, understated playwright not known for
his poetic dialogue. But he is adept at capturing ordinary people facing
difficult moments with authenticity.
Young Man From Atlanta, Signature Theatre, 480 West 42
St., through Dec. 15.
time: 125 minutes