Review: ‘Night Seasons’ at Quotidian Theatre Company

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Horton Foote, the Oscar and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of hundreds of plays for stage and screen, was known as the American Chekhov.

As such, his work is a perfect choice for The Quotidian Theatre. In fact, Ben Brantley, in his 1994 review of Night Seasons–then having its New York premiere, some 20 years after the play was written–uses the word “quotidian” to describe the play.

Carolyn Kashner as Laura Lee Weems, Laura Russell as Delia Weems, David Dubov as Thurman Weems, and Timothy Ziese as Mr. Barsoty. Photo by Steve LaRocque.

And “quotidian” it is. Night Seasons, now having its DC premiere, is a play about the ordinary intersections in daily life and the choices that are sometimes inadvertently made.

Like many of Foote’s plays, this one is set in a small town in East Texas where members of a multi-generational family gossip, quarrel about money and betray each other in ways large and small. The family is dominated by a matriarch named Josie Weems.

Although the play is set on Josie’s 93rd birthday, it spans a period of 40 years–from 1923 to 1963–through a series of flashbacks. Most of the action centers on  Laura Lee Weems, the unhappy daughter, known as “Sister” to her parents and siblings.

The gist of the story is that Laura Lee–unlike her cousins or her brothers–cannot leave. In thrall to a mother who demands obedience, she remains locked into a life where marriage seems to be the only way out. However, all the suitors, one by one, have disappeared.

Carolyn Kashner. Photo by Steve LaRocque.

The role of the emotionally stunted daughter is played by Carolyn Kashner. So paralyzed is she by her mother’s control that she rarely fights back. And when she does–deciding to buy a house and live on her own–she is quickly defeated.

Jane Squier Bruns plays the role of the mother, a woman so arrogant and self-centered that she cannot admit to any fault at all. In fact, she can’t understand her daughter’s complaints and dismisses her husband’s pleas to adopt a more comfortable life style. (They live in a hotel, so that Josie will not have to cook or clean.)

Lingering over memories and a scrapbook, Josie reminisces with the only people she has left, a caretaker whom she treats badly and a niece whose marriage she tried to prevent.

The caretaker, Doris, is portrayed by Debbie Minter Jackson, a veteran of the DC theatre scene who is also a playwright. Jackson commands the stage even when she’s not speaking. Her set jaw when listening to Josie, her pride when remembering her own mother and her warmth in laughing with Dolly, all speak volumes.

Dolly is the niece who ignores the family advice and marries the man she loves, even though he gambles away his money and is a drunkard as well. Elizabeth Darby brings warmth and credibility to the role of a woman who is good-hearted and satisfied with her life.

Grant Cloyd is Dolly’s husband, the ne’er-do-well Mercer, who puts on a fine performance as both a doting husband and a drunk who periodically shocks his staid in-laws.

John Decker plays the father-in-law, Mr. Weems. Although he’s the patriarch of the family, he’s completely browbeaten by his wife.  His sole act of rebellion comes when he decides to give Laura Lee the money she needs to escape. “It’s none of your business,” he says, over and over, when Josie try to pry out the truth.

While the main plot centers on Josie and those in her immediate circle, the real stars of this play are Thurman, the older of the Weems’ sons, and Delia, his venomous wife. These two–played brilliantly by David Dubov and Laura Russell–are constantly at each other’s throats.

Storming on and off stage like gale-force winds, Thurman and Delia vilify each other in front of the family. Cheating comes naturally to Thurman, who uses his role at the bank to manipulate people’s lives. Delia, on the other hand, uses gossip and threats to get what she wants.

Jane Squier Bruns as Josie Weems and John Decker as Mr. Weems. Photo by Steve LaRocque.

Rounding out this cast of characters are Rosa, the cousin who manages to leave both the family and town, played with quiet strength by Jennifer Osborn; Skeeter, the youngest of the Weems progeny, played by Bill Brekke, and Mr. Barsoty, Laura Lee’s first love, played by Timothy Ziese.

Jack Sbarbori, who founded Quotidian 19 years ago with Stephanie Mumford, is the director who keeps the memories flowing, while Linda Bruce is the stage manager who compresses an amazing amount of time and place into a tiny space.

The single set, designed by Sbarbori, consists of an old-fashioned parlor, flanked on one side by the living area of Dolly’s home and a telephone table with two chairs on the other. There are some wonderful period touches, including lamps–one with a silk tasseled shade, the other with a painted glass globe–and Persian-style rugs. Nearly every inch of wall space is covered with greeting cards, reminding us of the birthday that has brought these people together.

Lighting and sound, designed by Don Slater and Valerie Higgs, create the soft glow of a distant past, filling the theatre at first with music from the American songbook and later on with hymns. On the rear wall there is a flowered screen, behind which images appear. One is Rosa, the cousin who left. Another is Dolly, Laura Lee and Mr. Barsoty, singing at a local funeral.

Stephanie Mumford has done a spectacular job with costumes, using the changing styles to depict the different decades. There are some fabulous hats–ladylike and elegant for Josie, vampish and sinister for Delia–plus a 1920s chemise, the flowered frocks of the ‘30s and ‘40s and a wonderful green plaid suit for the philandering Thurman.

Night Seasons is not the best play that Horton Foote wrote in his 60-year career. However, it does give voice to some of his favorite themes, including the stranglehold exercised in some small towns.

Quotidian has produced much of his work, beginning with Talking Pictures in 1998, and continuing through next season, when the theatre will mount A Coffin in Egypt, which he wrote in 1980. In it, Jane Squier Bruns will play the role of another East Texas matriarch.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

Night Seasons plays through August 13, 2017, at Quotidian Theatre Company performing at The Writer’s Center – 4508 Walsh Street, in Bethesda, MD‎. For tickets, call the box office (301) 816-1023, or purchase them online.