BETHLEHEM — Bethlehem’s The Gary-The Olivia Theater is a long way from Broadway, and that’s a good thing.
Time and place tend to fade away at this open air playhouse on the grounds of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, where distractions are limited to the glow of fireflies and the sound of summer breezes in the trees.
Clay and Wattles Theater Company’s production of “Blind Date” and “The Actor,” two one-act plays by Horton Foote, is midway through its run at The Gary-The Olivia.
At last Friday’s opening night, Clay and Wattles co-artistic director Sally Camm said she has long wanted to bring the works of Horton Foote to Bethlehem.
The director called Horton Foote “a painter of words, a poet who paints broad canopies with his words.”
A native of tiny Wharton, Texas, Foote was particularly fond of writing about small towns, she said, making his plays uniquely suited to a theater company that draws its audience from places like Bethlehem, Woodbury, Southbury, Watertown.
A Pulitzer Prize winner for “The Young Man From Atlanta” and a two-time Oscar winner for his screenplays of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Tender Mercies,” Foote is often referred to as the American Chekhov.
Though billed as comedies, the two plays chosen by Ms. Camm and co-artistic director Thomas Camm are thought-provoking as well: a pair of neat, concise commentaries on the universality of human nature.
As explained by narrator Joe Stofko, “Blind Date” concerns a young woman, Sarah Nancy, who doesn’t really know what she wants out of life.
“One thing is certain,” he said. “She knows what she doesn’t want.”
Set in Harrison, Texas, in 1929, the play takes place in the living room of Robert and Dolores Henry, played by John Fabiani and Kelly Mehiel.
A former beauty queen, Dolores is consumed with the task of schooling her disinterested niece in how to attract a man. Robert just wants his dinner.
As Sarah Nancy, New York-based actress Victoria Teague hilariously conveys her dislike for Felix (Erik Bloomquist), the young man her aunt has targeted for her. An aspiring mortician, Felix’s idea of wooing a woman is to recite all the books of the Bible — practically in one breath — then challenge her to do it faster.
Following intermission, the narrator reappears to tell the audience that “The Actor” is about a young man who “knows what he wants to do with his life. But what if just about everyone else disagrees?”
Recent Trinity College grad Erik Bloomquist returns as Horace Robedaux, Jr., a young man who feels that just as the Lord called the local minister to preach, he has received a call to become an actor. He is equally certain his father will not approve.
Audience members impressed with Bloomquist’s ability to rattle off the books of the Bible were further awed by his command of the play’s opening monologue, a 15-minute soliloquy of sorts where he pours out his soul to the audience prior to approaching his parents, played by Catherine Annuli and Thomas Camm.
Largely autobiographical, the play is both funny and poignant, with Nico Apicella as Horace’s younger brother providing the lightest moments.
Like his young protagonist, Horton Foote studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse for several years before moving on to New York City, where he joined the American Actors Theater.
But he soon found his life’s work away from the footlights.
“Disillusioned with stage scripts, he decided to write plays himself,” the narrator advised. “Critics didn’t think much of Horton Foote as an actor, but they loved his writing.”
His journey took him from Texas to California, from New York City to Hollywood. Later in life he began a longtime association with the Hartford Stage, which was preparing to run “The Orphans’ Home,” a nine-play cycle considered his opus, in 2009 when Foote died at age 92.
In a 1986 interview with The New York Times Magazine, Mr. Foote expounded on the themes running through his work, saying, “I believe very deeply in the human spirit and I have a sense of awe about it because I don’t know how people carry on...
“I’ve known people that the world has thrown everything at to discourage them, to kill them, to break their spirit. And yet something about them retains a dignity. They face life and they don’t ask quarters.”
Performances of “Blind Date” and “The Actor” will continue at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 21, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 22, at The Gary-The Olivia Theater at the Abbey of Regina Laudis, 249 Flanders Rd.
Tickets are $20 per person, $18 for seniors, available at thegarytheolivia.com or at the door. Children 11 and younger are admitted free when accompanied by a paying adult.
Clay and Wattles Theater Company’s season will continue in August with a production of the Irving Berlin musical “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Those seeking additional information may email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the theater at 203-273-5669.