Characters in Horton Foote plays tend to talk. And talk and talk and talk and talk and talk. It takes a savvy director to turn such static exposition into real theater, so it’s a boon that the last two new productions in the Metroplex’s Foote Festival have top-notch men showing us how to do it.

Rene Moreno has always specialized in drawing out great performances with little over action, a skill that reaps tremendous benefits in Contemporary Theatre of Dallas’ The Trip to Bountiful. Despite the word “trip,” the play is a static affair: Set in a cramped apartment, then a cramped bus, then a tiny, moldering house. But in the small moments, Moreno teases out a profound, small tale of old age.

Carrie (Elly Lindsay) has lived with her son (the terrifically hang-dog Tom Lenaghen) and his selfish wife Jessie Mae (Sue Loncar) in Houston for years, sharing her pension check to help them through, but she longs to see her home in Bountiful, Texas, one final time.

There’s no real mystery, here: We know you can’t go home again, and Carrie does too. But Lindsay captures, especially in Act 2, her need to connect with her roots one final time. She’s not dotty, she’s simply old, and as anyone who has ever talked to their grandmother knows, old age ain’t for sissies.

The tragedy in The Roads to Home at Theatre Three (pictured) doesn’t befall the elderly, but the young. In 1920s Houston, Annie (Renee Kelly), a flapper-era housewife, has been traumatized by the murder of her father, her own post-partem depression and the staggering loneliness of her life and has started to unravel. She drops in on her neighbor, who is from her same small town but doesn’t know quite what to make of her, forgetting the names of her own children. It’s what they used to call a “nervous condition,” but what we know better as bi-polar.

Three one-acts that fit together as a single play, The Roads to Home has plenty of humor, but also a more profound and deeply sad edge than any of the other plays in the Foote Festival. There are no happy endings here, despite all the laughter.

Other than Kelly, who delicately captures the otherworldliness of Annie, there are two stars of the show. One is director Terry Dobson, whose insertion of evocative stage business (making a pie, folding laundry, a masterful touch with a brandy snifter) keeps the show from being seized in a fit of words. The other is Pam Daugherty, whose comic timing and verbal dexterity turn chattering gossip into high comedy.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2011.