“Give me back my arm!” a deranged man shouts at the manager of a cotton gin where he lost the limb in an accident.
He’s not the only one howling in “Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote.”
A spurned lover is given to drunken, late-night bellowing of “Helen!” that has scandalized the mostly female residents of the rooming house where she is trying to get on with her life.
These and all the other denizens of Harrison, the great fictional wellspring of Foote’s prolific imagination, are drawn with a compassion that never clouded his gimlet eye.
Foote, who died in 2009, was equally adept at full length plays and one-acts like these crystalline miniatures.
In “Blind Date,” Foote’s daughter and unequalled interpreter, Hallie, plays a nervous aunt whose attempts to find a suitable match for her dour niece (Andrea Lynn Green) are invariably rebuffed.
“The One-Armed Man” -- set, like “Blind Date,” in 1928 -- concerns a showdown between a not-unlikable cotton-gin manager (Jeremy Bobb) and the man (Alexander Cendese) who reappears regularly to demand the return of his arm.
The longest of the three plays (the entire evening runs well under two hours) is “The Midnight Caller,” written in 1956, when Foote was a top writer for live television dramas.
It takes place in a rooming house where Helen (Jenny Dare Paulin) falls in love with a new tenant (Bobb) to the distress of her ex.
The eldest tenant, played by the incomparable Jayne Houdyshell, shares moments of revelation and optimism with the others with Hallie Foote on hand as the solicitous landlady.
Foote was an American Chekhov, the subtlest actions of his characters releasing the greatest emotions. Pam MacKinnon, one of our most gifted directors (“Clybourne Park”), lets things unfold at a natural pace. The plays are cast perfectly, the tone not reverential yet intensely soulful.
Through Sept. 15 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St. Information: +1-212-279-4200; http://www.ticketcentral.com Rating: ****
The Public Theater’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit takes Joseph Papp’s institution back to its 1950s roots, bringing Shakespeare to audiences that can’t make it to the Astor Library in the East Village or the Delacorte in Central Park: The infirm, the imprisoned, the poor and others.
A production of “Richard III” that has travelled the boroughs has settled in for a run at the downtown home base and it’s worth seeing for the extraordinary performance of Ron Cephas Jones in the title role.
A brief prologue brings the audience up to date on who’s who. Then Jones makes his entry, sinister, brooding and intense, in a black caped hoodie.
He’s riveting as he declaims the murderous Gloucester’s jealous assessment of the times: “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York,” outlining his plan to usurp the throne and become Richard III.
There’s just one problem.
Jones is very tall, all muscle and sinew, pharaonic in look and regal in pose. Though he wears the metal and leather leg brace and glove favored by many Richards, it’s impossible to believe this character’s self-description as so hideously deformed that dogs bark at him in the street and no woman would want to sleep with him.
This is a severely stripped-down, Poor Theater-style production (it runs barely 90 minutes without intermission). It’s performed in the round, with minimal set and lighting and delivered, under Amanda Dehnert’s direction, at breakneck speed, which doesn’t always serve the text.
A big white tarp includes the names of every character, X-ed out in red as each falls to Richard’s diabolical plan.
The actors include Suzanne Bertish, spitting out Queen Margaret’s curses with enthusiasm, and Michelle Beck as Lady Anne, whom Richard successfully woos after killing her father and her husband.
“I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long,” Cephas Jones sneers, sending a chill -- and a thrill -- through the audience.
Through Aug. 25 at 425 Lafayette St. Information: +1-212-967-7555; http://www.publictheater.org. Rating: ****
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(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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