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The Carpetbagger's Children

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One of Horton Foote's greatest gifts--a commendable and, in its own way, truly subversive one-is his realization that the world changes a lot faster than the individual does. His characters double back on themselves and process their lives at their own pace, even as their surroundings buckle and pivot on all sides. This narrative passivity isn't for all tastes, but if you're willing to recalibrate and immerse yourself in this world, you'll be rewarded amply. No better example of this can be found than in "The Carpetbagger's Children."

The Thompson sisters may have acquired their fortunes through somewhat dubious means--their father was a Union soldier who settled in Texas shortly after the Civil War, earning the titular epithet--but Cornelia (Roberta Maxwell), Grace Ann (Jean Stapleton), and Sissie (Hallie Foote) are unimpeachably decent women. Grace Ann may have made a questionable (and financially ruinous) choice in eloping, and Sissie would be the first to tell you she has no head for business, but Cornelia's steady, benevolent competence keeps the outside world at what appears to be a safe distance. As the sisters' seemingly innocuous stories develop, however, irreparable fissures begin to show and spread and ultimately engulf.

Foote, like Chekhov, clearly appeals to performers who relish conveying complicated emotions simply. Stapleton and (especially) Hallie Foote, the playwright's daughter, are Foote veterans, and all three actresses give perfectly realized portrayals. They bring a dignity and an invaluable musicality to the Thompsons' travails. (Director Michael Wilson deserves much of the praise for giving the play, which is essentially an evening of monologues, such remarkable fluidity and momentum.)

Foote's careful, contemplative pace is decidedly out of fashion these days, and not a whole lot "happens" in the intermissionless 95 minutes. Still, this is a delicate but devastating story, deftly acted and hauntingly told.

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