The theater community lost one of its great designers with the recent death of the beloved Martin Pakledinaz. From the splendors of “Kiss Me Kate” (1999) to the Deco splash of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (2002) to the definitive “Gypsy” (2008), Marty gave us thrilling worlds of beauty, besides being an absolute angel of a human being and teacher (at NYU). Only 58, he succumbed to brain cancer at his Manhattan home on July 9.
Always a straight shooter, I loved hearing him describe how red really was the only color for Mama Rose’s final number, or how Christine Ebersole, idly playing with her sleeves during a “Blithe Spirit” rehearsal, came up with how to play a ghost (“Thank you, God!”), or how disappointed he was by the refusal of that show’s star, Rupert Everett, to become socially or charitably involved in the New York theatrical family (“He’d rather hang with Donatella Versace”).
Hallie Foote, who did “A Trip to Bountiful” with him, told me, “I just loved him. He was one of the great costume designers, with such ability and simplicity, the way he would try out colors. I was actually looking at pictures from ‘Bountiful’ and thought his clothes were so beautiful in this understated way, to bring out the character.”
Hallie Foote appears in the Primary Stages’ production “Harrison, TX,” three short plays by her father, Horton Foote, starting July 24. | PRIMARY STAGES
Foote is appearing in Primary Stages’ ”Harrison, TX,” three short plays by her father, Horton Foote, starting July 24 (59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St.; primarystages.org). Hallie, the executor of his estate, is startlingly lovely and sexy in real life, in contrast to the homespun and severe characters she plays
“Harrison, Texas was predominately what my Dad wrote about,” she said. “It’s a fictional name based on Wharton, Texas, where he was born and raised. He lived there until he was 17 and left, and didn’t really ever come back except for visits. His first play was called ‘Wharton Dance,’ and he used real people’s names. His mother was very proud of it, but everybody else was horrified because he had women drinking and all kinds of things going on. So he learned quickly to fictionalize the names and places.
“Two of these one-acts take place in 1928 and one in 1952, a study of the town and people at different times. I love the last one, ‘Midnight Caller,’ and it hasn’t been done in New York for a very long time. There’s an alcoholic in it who was originally played by Robert Duvall, and my mother saw him and told my dad to get down and see his performance, and that’s how he got the part of Boo Radley in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird!’
“There’s something kind of lyrical about it. My father’s one-acts have been done before, but never with this many people seeing it. Primary liked the idea and here we are, and I think he would have loved it. He loved the one-act form and wrote a lot for TV, which I think helped to inform them. With my very supportive family, we’ve started a foundation in his name to preserve his legacy.”
Foote’s connection as an actress with her playwright father is an unprecedentedly long and fertile collaboration, and she said, “We were very close. He was a really great father, and artistically we seemed to mesh. Although he was raising a family, surrounded by kids, he could write anywhere, and my mother was very good about giving him space. We always seemed to have an attic where we lived that would be turned into an office.
“He had no schedule, just wrote when he wanted to. Later in life, he had trouble sleeping and he said, ‘Well, I just figured it out. I just get up and write and don’t worry about sleep.’ It was like breathing for him. He was 12 days short of his 93rd birthday when he died and had it all right up until the end. I think doing what he loved helped, and he also started doing yoga in his 80s. He was never very athletic, but there’s this form, Iyengar, which modifies the poses if you can’t do them, and he just loved it. I think it challenged his mind.”
Foote started her acting career relatively late in life: “I majored in English lit in college and got married to my first husband. I never wanted to be an actress or a writer, but I liked to read books. I worked for a Boston insurance company and remember thinking, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ when they started to promote me and talk about Blue Sky reports.
“I thought maybe I wanted to try acting, so I went to my father, who I think thought he’d dodged a bullet and I was going to have a normal life. There was this pause, and he said, ‘You’d better study with somebody who’s a good teacher.’ I ended up going to California and studying with Peggy Feury, from Strasberg Studios. She was wonderful, but the way she taught was mysterious. I always used to think, ‘Why can’t she give me the ABCs?’ But she would sort of tell stories and get you to figure it out.”
Foote was deservedly Tony-nominated for “Dividing the Estate”: “That was a fun play to do. I think everybody can relate to Mary Jo and have a lot of sympathy for her. She probably gets too caught up in everything, but there was a directness about her and something forthright which I loved. That pragmatic side of her to deal with a situation, and, once her back was against the wall, to say, ‘Okay, we stay here!’”
Foote’s husband, Devon Amber, is playing her husband in “Harrison, TX”: “We’ll be married 18 years in November. It’s a good marriage. No kids. It’s hard being an actor. I’ve had a great life and lots of flexibility because I don’t have children, and I think that was sort of the tradeoff.”
Primary Stages is hosting more Foote (Feete?) after this play, with the actress next going into her sister Daisy’s “Him,” “a beautiful play about choices and the value of the land.”
Jayne Houdyshell, nominated for a Tony for the 2011 revival of “Follies,” also appears in “Harrison, TX.” | PRIMARY STAGES
Character actress Jayne Houdyshell also appears in “Harrison, TX.” She described her role in “Midnight Caller” as “a school teacher, about 60, who lives in a boarding house with a number of single women. She never married, but is a true romantic who has hung on to her belief in love, and is a bit of a maternal figure for the younger women. Foote writes so well for women!”
Houdyshell was nominated for a Tony for “Follies”: “It’s all such a crap shoot, but being nominated was a thrill! I didn’t expect it and was very shocked, and thought probably Elaine Paige or Terri White from our show would be in that category.
“Going to the awards was crazy because we closed ‘Follies’ in Los Angeles on Saturday night and those nominated literally walked from the theater with suitcases to waiting cars and were driven to the airport. We arrived in New York at 8:30 a.m., and Danny Burstein, God bless him, was picked up and taken right to rehearsal for the show. The rest of us got to go home and grab a couple of hours’ sleep before we had to get ready.
“So I was very relaxed because I was a little tired, a good way to go to it because it can be sort of stressful. But I was beyond being stressed out and just enjoyed it all. I went with my dear friend Bill Cux who I’ve known since the mid-1980s. I wore a beautiful, very comfortable black chiffon dress with a kimono jacket I found in an LA boutique some wardrobe friends of mine directed me to because I had no idea where to shop there.”
Houdyshell replaced Linda Lavin, the Hattie in the DC production of “Follies,” who had committed to do “The Lyons.”
“They called lucky me, and all I had to do was go in and sing ‘Broadway Baby’ because it was essential that I sing it in the original key,” she recalled. “They were reinstating the medley with two other numbers, ‘Ah Paris’ and “Rain on the Roof.’ and in DC, Linda had sung it in a different key.
“[Tony-winning costume designer] Gregg Barnes is an extraordinary human being, as well as an incredible artist. I had done ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ with him and knew what fun it was to work with him, very collaborative. He really listens to actors, how we feel about the clothes he designs, very thoughtful and smart. And Ohmigod, those clothes were something else. I never got tired of looking at those showgirl costumes!”
“I suspected when they cast me that they were looking for something kind of character-y. I read Ted Chapin’s book about ‘Follies,’ about Ethel Shutta who originated Hattie. What she did was inimitable, but what I did take away was what joy she had getting that part because she had been kind of in oblivion, living in anonymity, and forgotten for a lot of years. So to be contacted and asked to do a show about the world she came from was an incredible gift to her, and that inspired me.”
Houdyshell was also in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” with the great Brian Bedford: “Ohmigod, that was so intimidating, but he’s an unbelievable actor and director. I replaced Dana Ivey and had only six rehearsals, so my job was to listen very carefully to everything he told me to do and do it, very specific and detailed. He’s a genius and always gave the exact same performance every night. So technically pure, so rare, and it’s a particular mindset and discipline, but it’s the way I was trained and I like working that way.
Lauren Hoffmeier showed off her status as a true musical star as Clio in Dicapo Opera’s production of “The Most Happy Fella.”
From the second Lauren Hoffmeier walked out onstage as Clio, in the final performance of Dicapo Opera’s “The Most Happy Fella,” on July 8, and barked out, “Ooh, my feet!,” I felt the immediate presence of a true musical star. To say she stole the show is an understatement; with her killer belt, ferocious acting energy, and amusingly malleable face, she reminded me of a baby Patti LuPone. Vocal teacher to the stars Gerald Moore whispered to me, “Now here’s a girl who should be playing Evita!”
The entire production was a delight — and, to be frank, it’s a show that has never been one of my favorites, with its weird book filled with so many tiresomely repetitive cornball clichés that threaten to turn it into an Italian minstrel show and its schizo mix of operatic and Broadway-flavored music. Conductor Pacien Mazzagatti buoyantly led an orchestra that sounded better than most sawing away uninspiredly on Broadway right now. And, what an unalloyed joy it was to hear all those soaring, young, gorgeously unamplified voices in Dicapo’s perfectly proportioned intimate gem of a house.