Horton Foote has been described as “America’s Chekhov,” so it’s not surprising that reviewers and our patrons have noted the resemblences between Horton Foote’s The Old Friends and both the work of master Russian playwright Anton Chekhov and the long-running TV hit, Dallas.
Though Foote lived his entire adult life in the north, most of his plays and screenplays were set in his native Texas, where the local economy’s shift from agriculture to oil caused great societal changes – much like those facing the Russian aristocrats in Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard or Uncle Vanya. But Foote knew Texans – and his characters are as big and bold and their family feuds as enduring and bitter as those in Dallas.
The Ewings of Dallas
Lori Myers as Sybil Borden and JoAnn Montemurro as Gerrude Hayhurst Sylvester Ratliff
Just as Dallas‘ Ewing and Barnes families feuded over Jock Ewing squeezing Digger Barnes out of their oil company, The Old Friends renews a feud that began with Gertrude Hayhurst Sylvester Ratliff’s father ruining Sybil Leighton Borden’s father. The family feud resumes when Sybil returns to town and becomes a romantic rival to Gertrude.
Judy Lea Steele and Ron Quade as Julia and Albert Price in The Old Friends
Then there’s the unhappily married JR and Sue Ellen Ewing, who have a resemblance toThe Old Friends’ battling Albert and Julia Price, who though in her ’50s is a girl who still just wants to have fun – even if it is with a boy half her age.
Patrick Duffy and Victoria Principal as Bobby and Pam Ewing
Lori Myers and Will Casey as Sybil Borden and Howard Ratliff
But they’re not all villains…. while Dallas had Bobby Ewing and Pam Barnes Ewing as sympathetic characters, Horton Foote gives us Sybil Borden and Howard Ratliff – former high school sweethearts exploring a chance to finally connect later in life.
Barbara Bel Geddes as Miss Ellie
Lori Myers as Sybil, marssie Mencotti as Mamie, Kayla Pulley in background
And there are the family matriarchs trying to deal with the insanity of the younger generations – Dallas had Miss Ellie Ewing while The Old Friends gives us Mamie Borden.
And though Foote gives us some juicy characters in The Old Friends, like Chekhov his characters are complex – neither entirely good nor bad. They learn during the course of the play, but as in Chekhov and as in real life – there are more questions than answers. In The Old Friends, we get the sizzle as well as the steak.