Tragic 'Pecan Trees' worth a look
By JOSEPH T. ROZMIAREK
Special to The Advertiser
The special thing about Readers' Theater is that it only requires two things: intelligent oral interpretation and imagination. The first comes from the cast. If they do their job well, they stimulate the audience to supply the second.
Both sides of that arrangement are realized in the current reading at Army Community Theatre, which is devoting this year to the plays of Horton Foote. More precisely, the season is composed of his smaller, less-known works.
Foote, who died in 2009, won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for his drama, "The Young Man from Atlanta," and was known for excellent screen plays and television dramas. But you would be hard pressed to find a current production of "The Man Who Climbed Pecan Trees" — which Foote wrote in 1981 — or even someone who might have seen it.
For starters, it's a one-act play, which are not popularly produced. Secondly, it's not easy to like the central character of Stanley Campbell, a notorious young drunk who deals with personal failure by climbing trees in the town square. Lastly, the story wallows in financial and emotional depression in a manner we might expect from Anton Chekhov, if he were transplanted from 19th century Russia to a small Texas town in 1938.
The whole sorry bunch of characters are so lethargic that their favorite pastime seems to be sitting around the parlor to rehash their failures. Brother (David Farmer) has lost his father's inheritance money in bad investments. Stanley's wife, Bertie Dee (Angie Niermann) has likely slept with any man in town who would have her. And Davis (Seth Lilley) seems to have made a minor vocation of hauling his brother, Stanley, back to their mother's house.
Their mother (Sylvia Hormann-Alper) is interesting in that she has developed self-deception into an art form, counting her blessings and recounting her children's virtues even as they self-destruct on her living room carpet.
Given all this, it's Richard Pellett's performance of Stanley that makes the performance worth seeing, even if you've never heard of Horton Foote. Playing a character half his age — a dramatic liberty encouraged by the Readers' Theatre format — Pellett takes the character from a bumbling clown to a tragic figure in the short 50-minute length of the play.
We initially see him as a babbling drunk, lugged home by an enabling brother, then as an idiot fool, groping to name anyone in town — other than his mother — who might take him in. But he becomes a serious figure when he begins to recite the litany of townsfolk who routinely cheat on their spouses — spiraling inexorably toward the serious infidelity of his own wife.
We see him last, cradled sobbing in his mother's arms, unsure whether he has finally fallen from one of his high perches.
As a result, this ACT Readers' Theatre production works both as an insight into the American dramatic repertoire and as a study in personal emotional catharsis.