James Leynse
August 15, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

We gave it an A-

Who knew Horton Foote dispensed dating advice? And who knew it could be so relevant three decades on? In ”Blind Date” — the comical curtain-raiser in Harrison, TX, now playing through Sept. 15 at Off Broadway’s Primary Stages — Aunt Dolores (Hallie Foote, the late playwright’s daughter) schools her sulky niece Sarah Nancy (Andrea Lynn Green) on the art of being gracious toward gentlemen callers: ”You make them feel you are interested in whatever they have to say,” she instructs. ”It is not important if you are or not, you are supposed to make them think you are.”

Sarah Nancy’s adventures in dating make for an amusing start to the evening — especially since it affords Hallie Foote the opportunity to fuss and fluster and spout idealized Southern-belle aphorisms; there’s simply no better interpreter of Horton Foote’s trademark woe-is-me matriarchs. That makes ”The One-Armed Man” all the more shocking: Far darker than the average Foote play, this later work from the early 1980s features a sinister twist that still haunts me days later. (And what is it with American playwrights and missing limbs? See: Tennessee Williams’ unproduced screenplay ”One Arm,” which was adapted for the stage last year.)

”The Midnight Caller” ends the triple bill on an even more somber note. The tedium of life at an all-female boarding house is temporarily disrupted by two new residents: scandal-ridden Helen Crews (Jenny Dare Paulin) and divorcé Ralph Johnston (Jeremy Bobb). Exciting stuff…until we learn that Helen is trying to quit a self-destructive love affair with a hopeless alcoholic; the perky young ”Cutie” Spencer (Andrea Lynn Green, living up to her character’s name) has resigned herself to spinsterhood; and resident mother hen Miss Rowena (Jayne Houdyshell, a recent Tony nominee for Follies) confesses that, no, she doesn’t like her life: ”I could think of a million other lives I’d rather lead, if I let myself, but this is my life so I try and make the best of it,” she shrugs. Foote’s work can often be a bit of a downer — death, disease, money troubles, and constant family feuds are de rigueur in his nine-play masterpiece The Orphans Home Cycle — but the ”Midnight Caller” characters seem even less poised for happiness.

These one-act drama are linked by little more than the setting — Harrison, Texas, a fictionalized version of Foote’s hometown of Wharton (not far from Houston) — and Foote’s leisurely, lovely storytelling. As always, it’s a model of simplicity and style. A?

(Tickets: TicketCentral.com or 212-279-4200)

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