PLAINVIEW – Mention the name Horton Foote, and most will recall the classic movie “To Kill a Mockingbird,” for which Foote wrote the screenplay. Others may recall “A Trip to Bountiful” or “Tender Mercies,” both of which Foote wrote.
But in terms of Texas writer Foote’s critical acclaim, the nod would have to go to Young Man from Atlanta, the next production planned by Wayland Baptist University’s theatre department. The play won Foote a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 and it was nominated in 1997 for a Tony Award for Best Play after Broadway performances.
A native of Wharton, Foote was a young actor and eventually began writing, with many of his works based on his Texas upbringing. He moved to New York and founded the American Actors Company.
According to Dr. Marti Runnels, director of theatre at Wayland, the production is one of Foote’s best, a drama with an air of mystery as well.
“The play deals with a family who loses their son in a drowning,” Runnels explained. “They’re trying to come to grips with the situation and figure out what happened. It’s a mystery in one sense because you’re figuring this out at the same time.”
A deep, dramatic play, Runnels said it covers various themes.
“It’s also about what happens to a family when they focus on money, and this family has old Houston money,” he added.
Runnels noted that the play is rather serious, and said children may not understand or appreciate the piece like adults will. While Wayland welcomes children age three and up to its productions, he said this play might be better suited for parents only.
“There’s nothing graphic or objectionable, kids just might not understand it all,” he said.
The Wayland production will feature a cast of some veteran student actors, some newcomers and several Plainview adults. Dr. David Howle, who serves as director of the Virtual Campus at Wayland, plays a lead role as Will Kidder. His wife, Lily Dale, is played by Mary Feril, a Wayland sophomore theatre major who has been in several productions at WBU. WBU theatre veteran Cory Norman, who was in nearly every major production during his years in Plainview, plays Pete Davenport in this play, along with Wayland students Tim Fisher as Carson and Lisa Angel as Miss Lacey. Relative newcomers, freshmen Grant Jasper and Chris Bevis return to the WBU stage as Ted Cleveland and Tom Jackson, respectively.
Plainview residents will recognize two faces in the production as well, also newcomers to the Wayland stage in some respects. Eva Balenton, a teacher at Thunderbird Elementary, is filling the role of Etta Doris, while Wayland senior Alpha Jennings, current Miss Wayland, plays Clara. Balenton is a longtime Plainview resident and a graduate of Wayland, while Jennings is the daughter of longtime residents Edward and Marilyn Jennings, also WBU alums.
Scene design is by Technical Director of Theatre Chris Moore, himself a WBU theatre veteran. Runnels is directing the production, with students serving on crews for lighting, sound, costumes and props.
The play will be performed at 8 p.m. on Feb. 25 and 26, as well as March 3, 4, and 5. The production is also the university’s entry into the Christian University Theatre Festival on March 7-8, to be held at Wayland and featuring performances by other schools from the region.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for students and WBU alums. For reservations, call the theatre box office at 291-1087.