Young Man From Atlanta: A Local Director’s Review

by Arne Zaslove,

Former Artistic Director, the Bathhouse Theatre & frequent local director

Good things come in small packages. Stone Soup Theatre’s Downstage, a tiny store front performing space @ 4029 Stone Way North (Wallingford/Fremont area) has only two more week-ends to run their excellent production of The Young Man From Atlanta. This American classic seldom seen by the prolific American playwright, Horton Foote, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 and is directed by Maureen Hawkins.

Foote wrote two Oscar-winning film scripts as well as over 50 plays.  To Kill a Mockingbird, featured an indelible performance by Robert Duvall in his film debut  and a second Oscar for Tender Mercies which also featured Duvall as an aging country western singer.  Duvall actually wrote his own songs for that role and won the Oscar for best leading male actor.

L to R: Maggie Heffernan as Lily Dale & Gordon Coffey as Will (Photo by Armen Stein)

Foote’s world was primarily the southern United States, and The Young Man from Atlanta, takes place around 1950 in Houston, Texas.   The action of the play or inaction – centers on the family of Will Kidder and his wife, Lily Dale.  The world is strongly influenced by the plays of Anton Chekhov, where nothing much happens where everyone is anguished with thwarted desires, and unfulfilled hopes.  They struggle with the changes after WWII, with financial insecurities and the uncertain future.   They are mired reflecting on a  tragic incident in their past and untold secrets in the family closet.

The performances by a lovely, tightly knit ensemble are uniformly excellent.   The cast has achieved a warm and close depth that moves the story slowly but surely towards a very moving conclusion.   Chekhov would often end his plays with deep longing and tender despair, but Foote approaches this moment with something different but equally poignant.

The space is intimate and the audience is so close they are almost sitting in the suburban living room of the Kidder family.  All the better to view the subtle and very realistic acting style – as if you were watching a film with subtle and deeply felt emotions.

Gordon Coffey as Will Kidder, the central role, is absolutely dead on.  He is tender and hopeful in the face of devastating odds; and shows vulnerability that many actors would shun.  Gordon was an original member of the first Seattle Repertory Co. who took a long hiatus to raise a family and start a business.  I hope we will see more of him in the future.   He achieves the poignancy of a Willy Loman, in Death of a Salesman.

Spoiler alert:  the young man from Atlanta is actually the catalyst to the tense plot.  But as each layer of the onion is peeled away we are not exactly sure of who he is or why he’s done what he’s done.  The puzzle is intriguing – and you will leave the theater pondering the ambiguity; to make your own decision.

The ensemble is one of the best I’ve seen in Seattle in recent memory.  Please note there only two more week-ends remaining to see this fine show.  Don’t miss this opportunity to see first class ensemble acting and beautifully orchestrated nuanced performances, in Horton Foote’s tender, merciful, classic American play.


Arne Zaslove was the artistic director of the Bathhouse Theatre for 20 years and has directed for the Seattle Rep and taught for the UW’s Professional Actor Training Program. He studied with Jacques LeCoq and has been a consultant for Cirque du Soleil, among many other things.

The Young Man From Atlanta runs through March 10 – tickets can be purchased by phoning the box office at 206.633.1883 or online at GoldStar (HALF PRICE!) or Brown Paper Tickets.


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