She?s ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille. Betty Buckley is giving a diva-licious, Norma Desmond-size performance at Off Broadway?s Pershing Square Signature Center in The Old Friends, a never-before-staged drama by the late playwright and consummate storyteller Horton Foote. As Gertrude Hayhurst Sylvester Ratliff, a predatory widow with a taste for drinks, diamonds, and dashing younger men, Buckley more than lives up to her character?s highfalutin name, and it?s a treat to watch the native Texan take up temporary residence in Foote?s small-town Harrison, Texas.
Such scenery-chewing is unusual for a Foote production; even at his most tragic (e.g., The Orphans Home Cycle), the playwright favors quiet simmering over histrionic outbursts. But The Old Friends is a pretty unusual Foote play. For one thing, just about everyone drinks. Even old Miss Mamie (Lois Smith, whose 2005 turn in Foote?s The Trip to Bountiful still gives viewers chills) throws a few back. The only one who doesn?t turn to the bottle is Sybil (Hallie Foote), and she?s got more reason to get crocked than anyone: Her husband just died, she?s practically penniless, and she?s forced to rent her childhood home from her uber-rich in-laws.
Here?s something else even the most fervent Foote fans have likely never seen in one of his plays: Hallie Foote as the heroine. Oh, we?ve seen her in just about every one of her father?s shows — but usually she?s scheming, sniping, or seething up a storm. (In The Old Friends, it?s Veanne Cox who takes on that role, and she?s a natural.) Sybil?s vulnerability doesn?t come easily to Hallie. But her dad?s dialogue does, and she comes up big when it counts: She goes nose to nose with Buckley and doesn?t get blown off the stage. Hallie Foote in a Horton Foote drama directed by Michael Wilson, staged at the Signature…it?s like a reunion with old friends. A?
(Tickets: SignatureTheatre.org or 212-244-7529)