Directing The Young Man From Atlanta

Maureen Hawkins, Director (Photo by Kirby Lindsay)

by Maureen Hawkins

Frequent Stone Soup collaborator and Young Man From Atlanta director

The journey to bring The Young Man From Atlanta to the Downstage Theater began in the spring of 2011 with a cold reading by invited actors. Maureen Miko (Stone Soup Artistic Director) and I had discussed staging one of Horton Foote’s one-acts during the 2011-12 season but, having read the entirety of his short plays, I felt this Pulitzer Prizewinning play in 6 scenes would be a better choice.

After the cold reading, Maureen agreed and, a few weeks later, I was auditioning actors for the roles. I felt incredibly blessed when I was able to assemble a cast of actors whom I felt each fit their roles perfectly and who would, together, create a tight and powerful ensemble.

As I continued to do my research, including reading the Orphan’s Home Cycle (Foote’s nine play opus that follows the life of his grandfather and in which the characters of Lily Dale, Pete and Will first appear), I worried I would get a call from an actor bowing out of this production in favor of a more lucrative or bigger role. Thankfully, when rehearsals started in January, everyone was still on board.

Meanwhile, our scene designer Suzi Tucker, was creatively implementing those elements we agreed would be essential in to the production:

  1. An intimacy with the audience which would take advantage of, and be enhanced by, the proximity of actors to their audience at the Downstage. From our first meeting we agreed that we wanted the audience to feel that they were in these rooms with no “fourth wall” separating them from the actors.
  2.  A set for scenes 2-6 that would emphasize the largeness and affluent detail of the Kidder’s living room while giving it an empty, just-moved-in quality (no pictures on the wall, no knick knacks, no elements from their former homes, in effect, no memories.)
  3. A creative way to store the set pieces for scenes 2-6 onstage (since there are no wings at the Downstage) during scene 1.  And, lastly, a way to make the scene shift between scenes one and two a smooth transition that underscores the dramatic progression to the Kidder’s new home.

At the same time, Savannah Balthazar was creating historically-accurate costumes which would complement the colors in the Kidder home while allowing for some quick changes; Lindsey Morck was selecting a beautiful solo piano score to bridge the scenes acoustically; and Chris Scofield was systematically choreographing a brilliant scene shift that would not only run smoothly but would visually underscore the transition to the new locale.

In rehearsal, the actors and I met the challenges that come in a play with long monologues, lots of exposition, repetition, scenes that have elements of melodrama and farce, and the regionalisms of authentic Southern voices.

My primary goal as director was to keep us true to the playwright’s intent: to simply and sincerely tell the story of a midlife couple who are dealt crushing blows at a time when they believe the struggles in their lives are all in the past.  Like many upper middle and middle class families in the recent past, the Kidders think the good times will last forever. Will builds a big house, buys expensive furnishings, “the biggest and the best” of everything.  But hard times come to the Kidders and any upper or middle management person who found themselves jobless and overextended in the recent past can relate to Will’s shock and anxiety as he sees himself facing financial disaster.

Gordon Coffey & Maggie Heffernan as Will & Lily Dale Kidder (Photo by Armen Stein)

Will Kidder is not unlike the classic tragic hero, blind to his faults: a victim, in part, of his own hubris. What will it take for him to be humbled enough to see what is really important in life while finally coming face to face with a grief he has barely acknowledged?

The plays demands that we ask questions: Does shielding those we love from facts we know will hurt them make our relationship stronger, more loving, or does it drive a wedge in it? Will a life driven by a need to have and to be “the best” sustain us at the end of our lives? Who is sincere and who is the liar? I think these are the questions Foote wants us to think about as we leave the theatre after watching this play.  As in any true classic, universal themes are made personal.  We are human and we all struggle to cope with devastating losses at some time in our lives. Accepting our mistakes and those of the ones we love, forgiving each other and ourselves, we go on as best we can.


Maureen Hawkins is a professional actor and director based in the Seattle area. Directing credits at Stone Soup, in addition to the above, include Durang7 and PlayFest 4. The Young Man From Atlanta runs Th-Sun through March 10. Tickets can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets or 206.633.1883.


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