In Horton Foote’s The Young Man from Atlanta—set in Houston in the spring of 1950—we never see the title character, Randy, nor is the word “gay” ever spoken. But let’s do the math for this Pulitzer Prize-winning drama.
Randy’s “roommate” was Bill Kidder, a Houston boy who didn’t like sports. He was a mama’s boy. He couldn’t swim.
At 37, and never married, Bill shared a room at a boarding house in Atlanta with Randy.
“They were devoted to each other,” admits Bill’s mother, Lily Dale.
When the curtain rises on The Young Man from Atlanta, Bill has drowned. Couldn’t swim, but stepped into a lake and kept walking until he was out of sight.
Lily Dale doesn’t want to believe her only child committed suicide, so she clings to Randy’s testimony to the contrary. Bill’s dad, the self-made millionaire Will Kidder, explains, “He told my wife that our son had become very religious in the year before his death and that every morning you could hear him praying all over their rooming house.”
When Randy comes to Houston for the funeral, he doesn’t leave. “God knows what he wants,” says Will. “Money, I suppose.”
Could Will be right? Lily Dale gives money to Randy when he’s “blue and depressed,” and he gets fired because he can’t keep his mind on his job. Then his mother gets sick and needs an operation. His sister’s husband deserts her with three hungry children, claims Randy.
“He’s bad news,” advises a relative who also stayed at the rooming house.
The Kidders and Lily Dale’s stepfather, Pete Davenport, first appeared in earlier Foote plays that became part of his The Orphan’s Home Cycle of nine one-act plays that Michael Wilson directed in New York in 2010. It won a New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best play, Outer Critics Circle Awards honors for outstanding new off-Broadway play and outstanding director of a play, and a special award from the Drama Desk organization of New York theater critics, editors, reporters, and publishers.
The 1997 Broadway production of The Young Man from Atlanta was nominated for the Tony Award for best play, director, actress (Shirley Knight as Lily Dale), and featured actor.
Horton Foote was born in Wharton, Texas, on March 14, 1916. He studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse in California for two years before going to New York and joining Mary Hunter’s American Actors Company. While there, he wrote a one-act play called Wharton Dance. Foote continued to pursue acting, appearing in a few other plays, but primarily he focused on writing. After World War II, he moved to Washington DC to run the King Smith School with Vincent Donehue. While there, he opened the King Smith Theater to all races, allowing the first integrated audiences in the nation’s capital.
In addition to plays, Foote wrote for film and television, including The Gabby Hayes Show. Among his movie scripts set in Texas were Baby, the Rain Must Fall, The Trip to Bountiful, and Tender Mercies, which won him a second Oscar to go with his screenplay for To Kill a Mockingbird.
Foote died on March 4, 2009, at the age of 92.
John Patterson directs the Houston production opening this month.
What: The Young Man from Atlanta
When: January 11–February 16, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Where: The Company OnStage, 536 Westbury Square
Tickets: $18 adults, $15 seniors/students
Info: companyonstage.org or 713/726-1219.
Donalevan Maines also writes about Tye Blue in this issue of OutSmart magazine.