Originally titled “The Indian Fighters” in 1954 when Horton Foote wrote the play, it was presented as “The Day Emily Married” at Silver Spring Stage in 1997 when the Quotidian Theatre Company came into being. Foote himself gave QTC’s co-founder and Artistic Director, Jack Sbarbori, permission to give the play its world premiere after he had unearthed it in the Library of Congress. The company moved to the Writers Center in Bethesda where it will end its 24-year run. This 2021 revival comes full circle and will be the company’s last production, with Sbabori again directing.
The acting is solid; the staging, lighting, and costumes well thought out; and the actors restrained in letting loose the emotionally volatility until it’s needed.
Set in the 1950s, this will be Emily Davis’s second marriage. Her first ended in divorce. She is determined that this time, she and her ambitious oil company husband, Richard Murray, will not live with her mother. But her mother has other plans, and so does her father. This is a family whose dysfunction is hidden under mannered layers and protestations of love. In other words, it’s a viper’s nest.
But then both of Emily’s husbands (the first turned out to be an alcoholic who was bought off by his father-in-law) can fit into that category. Richard clearly has demons of his own although the script doesn’t explore them. Andrew Greenleaf, who portrays Richard, is physically imposing, and at times seems to channel his inner Robert Mitchum —when thwarted, a subtle threat seems to ooze out of his body and expressions. It’s quite effective.
Emily (Roxanne Fournier Stone) is lonely and desperate for love. She is looking for more than to be stuck in the family home with its claustrophobic walls of family pictures, in a town two hours outside of Austin. Fournier-Stone is well up to the task to take us along on her emotional arc. And it’s a doozy of an arc.
Her mother, Lyd “Belle” Davis is flawlessly played by Jane Squier Bruns. She is from a generation of Southern women who had no real power or control of their lives, so they excelled in emotional blackmail, manipulation, learned helplessness, and ancestor worship to fuel their egos. Bruns gives a devastating portrait of an elderly woman who calls her husband, Lee, “Daddy” (an understated, yet torn performance by John Decker) and has the family dancing to her tune. She gives a nuanced performance of woman who is getting more frail and forgetful and trying to hold onto life in the only way she knows how.
The script, however, shows its age, sometimes in repulsive ways. For example, the family’s Black housekeeper and cook, Addie (Star Bobatoon) is treated with surface courtesy, but not as a full human being. When Emily tells her parents that she is leaving (and to his credit, her father urges her to go), it is assumed that Addie is so devoted she will simply move into the house without any discussion with Addie. There are other misogynistic and dated references that would have been unremarked upon in 1954, but are jarring in 2021.
One special shoutout goes to costume designer Stephanie Mumford (QTC co-founder). The women’s clothes are gorgeous. The fabrics are eye-catching and beautifully tailored, and the accessories carefully chosen to fit the matchy-matchy look of the era. They actually look rather dashing. Even the men’s clothing and shoes (the two-tone shoes that Richard wears are so flash for the era) speaks to their stations in life.
Director Jack Sbarbori gets some real fireworks and emotional rawness out of his cast. He also designed the set which is appropriately closed in and so very mannered. The walls of family photos going back at least three to four generations always loom in judgment behind the action on the stage.
This is a well-done version of a play with characters who are not the most likable. The acting is solid; the staging, lighting, costumes well thought out; and the actors restrained in letting loose the emotionally volatility until it’s needed.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
“The Day Emily Married” runs through August 29, 2021 presented in person by Quotidian Theatre Company, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815. For more information, please click here.