The Pershing Square Signature Center
The Irene Diamond Stage
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Through October 13, $75
The world premiere of The Old Friends at the Signature Theatre gathers together some old friends indeed. The play was written by Horton Foote, stars his daughter Hallie Foote, and is directed by longtime Foote collaborator Michael Wilson (The Trip to Bountiful, Talley’s Folly). In addition, the play, which began life as The Dispossessed in the mid-1960s, had a staged reading at the Signature in 2002. After that long gestation, it finally is having its first full-scale production, which has been extended at the Signature’s Irene Diamond Stage through October 13. Set in 1965 in Harrison, Texas, The Old Friends is a stark tale of greed, disloyalty, selfishness, envy, drunkenness, and infidelity that is part Tennessee Williams, part Dallas. Lois Smith stars as family matriarch Mamie Borden, who lives with her bon vivant daughter, Julia Price (Veanne Cox), and her oversized, very wealthy husband, Albert (Adam LeFevre). They are joined by the brash, blustery, and extremely rich Gertrude Hayhurst Sylvester Ratliff (Betty Buckley) and her companion, the gentle Howard Ratliff (Cotter Smith), as they await the arrival of prodigal daughter Sybil (Hallie Foote), who has spent the last decade with her husband, Hugo, in Venezuela. Sybil shows up alone, setting into motion jealousy, flirtations, lies, deception, gunshots, and lots and lots of drinking while they all battle over the family farm and other matters, mostly involving love and money.
Buckley beautifully chews up the scenery as Gertrude, a deeply unhappy, lonely woman who uses her power and money to get what she wants, which includes Howard, her former brother-in-law, and young stud Tom Underwood (Sean Lyons), whom she fights over with her former sister-in-law, the pseudo-elegant Julia. Smith (The Trip to Bountiful onstage, East of Eden on film) has a weak first act as Mamie, but she gets much stronger in the far superior second act, as long-held secrets emerge and relationships get even more explosive. At the center of it all is Foote’s solid portrayal of the complex Sybil, a quiet woman who is disappointed in how her life has turned out and tries her best to avoid getting caught up in the others’ nonsense, but she has a plan of her own as well. Wilson, who helmed Horton Foote’s epic Orphans’ Home Cycle with Hallie Foote at Signature in 2009, never lets things slow down as the characters make their way through a trio of lovely sets by Jeff Cowie, leading to a powerful ending that changes everyone’s lives. In this poignant Signature production, The Old Friends feels like, well, an old friend.