Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Jim Hutchison, left, Richard Pellett and Jill Esser read
from "The Young Man From Atlanta" at Richardson
Theatre at Fort Shafter.

‘Young Man’ ends
up feeling incomplete

"The Young Man From Atlanta"
On stage: 2 p.m. Sundays through May 27 at Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter. Tickets are $6. Call 438-4480

Review by John Berger

What were the judges thinking? "The Young Man From Atlanta" won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995, but if Army Community Theatre is doing justice to playwright Horton Foote's script it's hard to see "Young Man" as the 1955 equivalent of 1949's winner, "Death of a Salesman." There's a story here but it feels half-told. There are potentially interesting characters here, but only one seems fully developed.

This "readers theater" production is presented with the actors seated and reading their lines, but Jim Hutchison performs dressed in character and gives a good visual performance as Will Kidder, a Houston businessman whose hard-scrabble origins gave him a lifelong desire to go for the biggest and best of everything.

The year is 1950. Will is 64 and still full of vigor, ambition and drive. Then the company's owner -- the son of the man Will helped build the business over four decades -- decides that Will is out of touch with modern ways of doing things. Will's replacement gets the news before he does.

Theater veteran Hutchison does a solid job playing a defiant old bull who refuses to give up. He has seen similar things happen during his four decades in show business. That may be part of the reason his portrayal of Will Kidder rings true and touches the heart. Will is a man with a good-sized load to carry and suddenly the ground is ripped out from under him. Hutchison gives us enough that we feel Will's pain.

Will, who was anticipating many more years of predictable income, has put most of his available cash into a big new home that he hopes will help him and his wife get past the trauma of their son's death. Their son Bill was 38 when he parked his car beside a Florida lake and walked into the water until he disappeared.

And it gets worse. Will and his wife, Lily Dale, have been contacted many times since Bill's death by a young man who claims to have been his roommate. Will shuns the young man from Atlanta, but Lily Dale secretly gives him at least $20,000 to support relatives who apparently do not exist.

Most observers will conclude that Bill was a closet homosexual who committed suicide, and that his young roommate, Randy, was his boyfriend. Playwright Foote throws in a few hints to suggest that the relationship may have been more complex and less benign without providing any answers.

The main thing Foote seems interested in is that Will is maybe a little too proud, and too focused on his job rather than on his wife and son. And, neither he nor Lily Dale really want to know about Bill's life in Atlanta.

Richard Pellett is one of the core members of ACT director Vanita Rae Smith's Readers Theatre group. "Young Man" finds him pushed almost beyond his limits as he voices seven supporting characters and provides narration. It's asking a lot of anyone to create seven distinct and convincing voices for characters who range in age from 27 to 72. He does quite well with most off them, but is sorely tested in creating the characters of two black maids. Pellett's no stranger to cross-gender casting, but this is one of the rare times in Readers Theatre when his physical performance becomes at least as important as vocal delivery.

Jill Esser, as Lily Dale, spends much of the story defending her decision to believe Randy's tales about an ailing mother, deserted sister with three young children, and his inability to hold a job since Bill's tragic death. Lily Dale never earns our sympathy. OK, so Randy told her a beautiful story or two and she gave him some money. None of the revelations that Foote throws into the story are sufficient to shake the belief that the young man from Atlanta is running a con on a vulnerable woman.

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